Not my usual kind of music! But, this week, here is a performance of Grażyna Bacewicz’s Double Piano Concerto of 1966. The soloists are Peter Jablonski, who last year released a very well received CD of Bacewicz piano works, and Elisabeth Brauss. And since this concert in December, they have recorded the Concerto together for another CD to be released in the spring. Visit the concert page here, press Katso (play), and go to about 22.30 for the Concerto (which last less than twenty minutes). I’m not sure what to make of the music, but I much enjoyed watching them play!
Peter Jablonski and Elisabeth Brauss also play a very short and delightful encore by Ligeti, at 42.10. And then, if you want something a lot calmer, here is another very short piece, this time by Hindemith, quite beautifully played by Elisabeth. Hopefully a trailer for a DG solo disk by her.
Here is a video of the wonderful Chiaroscuro Quartet at a recent concert in Stockholm. They begin with Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 33, No. 4, followed (at 16:30) by Emilie Mayer’s String Quartet No. 1 (first performed in 1858). The concert concludes (from 47:30) with Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 59, No. 3.
I leave you to make your own mind up about the Mayer piece. But I’m really linking this video because of the performance of the third Rasumovsky. That quartet has been a quite special favourite of mine ever since I saw Godard’s One Femme Marieé at a very impressionable age — do you remember this scene? I have never found out which quartet’s performance was used in the film — though of the recordings from that era which I know, it is quite similar to that by the Amadeus.
The greatest live performance I’ve ever heard was by the Pavel Haas about three years ago, who were absolutely on fire at Wigmore Hall. I have never heard the transcendental second movement played more affectingly, or the final movement propelled with such passion. Astonishing (as the audience obviously felt at the time). But this performance by the Chiaroscuro, with their distinctive timbre on gut strings, is very fine indeed.
Since earlier in the pandemic, one cheering lifeline has been provided by filmed concerts. Here’s a plan. At least until the sunnier days of spring are here, I’m going to post a weekly link to share some performances, ones that you too might find really worth pausing over for a reflective moment one evening. They might be old or new, probably in fact just part of a concert, perhaps just half an hour more or less — and available online at least for the next couple of weeks, so you can find a chance to stop to watch and listen. Let’s see how it goes.
I’m starting with the opening of Pavel Kolesnikov’s Wigmore Hall concert just before Christmas. He began with a deeply felt, mesmeric, performance of Schubert’s D899 set of Impromptus. Kolesnikov astonished in the great G major sonata recently too; I find him a quite wonderful Schubert pianist. Enjoy!
(The impromptus last just over 30 mins: the rest of the concert — Bach, Adès, Schumann — is predictably excellent too!)
Somewhat to my surprise, I have posted here over a hundred times in the last year. But very many of the posts were of (at best!) pretty ephemeral interest — for example, giving links to then current drafts of the Beginning Mathematical Logic Study Guide, to updated chapters for Gödel Without (Too Many) Tears (lots of those), and updated chapters for the stuttering notes on Category Theory (lots of those too). Other posts were logic/maths booknotes, not all exactly friendly. But I wasn’t always mean: there was warmer praise for a number of books, including the following very mixed bag:
More, no doubt, about this very substantial book in the new year.
There have also been a dozen and a half posts on particular musical enthusiasms. So, since you may have a little more time over this holiday season, let me repost links to three wonderful filmed performances which are still available to watch. First, the wondrous Pavel Haas Quartet, recently at Wigmore Hall:
As I wrote before, it makes for a rather dramatic stage presence, Veronika Jarůšková with her mass of golden hair and a golden yellow dress catching the stage lights, the rest of the quartet in the most subdued of subfusc. And there’s a lot of drama in the performances too. But in one respect, the way the quartet play couldn’t be further from what is visually suggested — the equal balance, the closeness of the ensemble, the intense way they listen to each other, is as ever remarkable. So here they are, playing Haydn’s Op. 76 No. 1, Prokofiev’s second String Quartet No. 2, and then Pavel Haas’s String Quartet No. 2 (that’s the one with percussion in the final movement). On this occasion, I thought, the Prokofiev was especially fine: it is difficult to imagine the deeply affecting Adagio being played better.
Next, here is Elisabeth Brauss, also performing at Wigmore Hall to the warmest of receptions:
The recital started Beethoven’s Op. 109 Sonata, which inspired Elisabeth to quite mesmerising playing with heart-stopping moments: transcendental music, and a performance to more than stand comparison with the very best I’ve heard. Sadly, this part of the recital is no longer available online. But in the rest of an engagingly varied programme she offered us some rarely performed Hindemith, Brahms’ late four Klavierstücke, and Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien, all done with such verve and then wonderful delicacy, as variously called for — just a delight. You can watch here.
It makes for a striking stage presence, Veronika Jarůšková with her mass of golden hair and a golden yellow dress catching the stage lights, the rest of the quartet in the most subdued of subfusc. And there’s a lot of drama in the performances too. But in one respect, the way the quartet play couldn’t be further from what is visually suggested — the balance, the closeness of the ensemble, the intense way they listen to each other, is as ever remarkable. So here they are, from a Wigmore Hall concert last week, playing Haydn’s Op. 76 No. 1, Prokofiev’s second String Quartet No. 2, and then Pavel Haas’s String Quartet No. 2 (that’s the one with percussion in the final movement). On this occasion, I thought, the Prokofiev was especially fine: it is difficult to imagine the deeply affecting Adagio being played better.
Veronika Jarůšková founded the Pavel Haas Quartet in 2002, and she is the only remaining member from the original four — though she was soon able to swap cellists with the Skampa quartet, so was joined by her husband Peter Jarusek in 2004. There were then some changes of second violin until the quite excellent Marek Zwiebel joined in 2012. It seemed then that the Quartet was happily settled in a steady state. It must have been a great blow to them when their founder violist Pavel Nikl felt he had to leave the Quartet in 2016 because of family illness. Since then there have been — for whatever reasons, the internal dynamics of a quartet must always be complicated — more changes in the viola seat than they could possibly have wanted.
But for a few months now, it has been occupied by another Czech, Karel Untermüller — who looks on stage such a stolid figure, but his ability to have fitted into the Quartet’s style so seamlessly, so quickly, is rather extraordinary. However, it is not clear what the future holds — I see that at a February PHQ concert at Wigmore Hall, the viola is being played by Dana Zemtsov, while touring the USA in March the violist is Šimon Truszka.
The unsettled recent state of the Quartet must mean that recording plans are on hold for now. But Veronika Jarůšková, Peter Jarusek and Boris Giltburg are going into the studio this month (I think) to record Dvořák trios together. The Czech concerts where they have performed these have had rave reviews. So another terrific CD to look forward to in 2023!
Haydn: String Quartet in G major Op. 76/1 Martinů: String Quartet No 7 H314 Schubert: String Quartet in G D.887
The Schubert was particularly intensely felt. But what made the performances little less than miraculous was that they playing with (yet another) new violist. The gifted Luosha Fang was with them as recently as the East Neuk Festival in early July; and interviews when their Brahms Quintets disk came out a bit earlier gave every impression that after a year she was very much part of the Quartet. But now, it seems, more trials and tribulations for the Quartet and, for whatever reason, a sudden parting of the ways. The viola seat is now being occupied — at least for the rest of the year — by a Czech compatriot, Karel Untermüller. So there he was, just a few weeks into the role: yet the ensemble seemed (at least to my not very expert ears) to be as remarkable as ever. Which, as I say, was surely rather extraordinary.
Added And there is now also a rave review here. It finishes “These musicians are at the very top of their form: their playing is virtuosic, their tone is sensational, and they listen to one another as though their lives depend on it. In short, wonderful.” Perhaps it was the very necessity of extra-extra-close attention to each other, playing with a brand new member, that produced such fine performances.
Having just grumpily posted about a disappointing logic book, now for something the very opposite of disappointing …
The Gstaad Digital Festival has been streaming a series of concerts by young musicians, “Jeunes Etoiles”. The latest was a terrific concert by the cellist Friedrich Thiele wonderfully accompanied by Elisabeth Brauss. They played Beethoven’s variations on Mozart’s «Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen», Schumann’s Fantasiestücke for Cello and Piano, and five Shostakovich piano Preludes arranged for Cello and Piano followed by his Cello Sonata Op. 40. All the Shostakovich was new to me and I was very taken with the music. All extraordinarily well played to my ears — and as you can see, the performers too seemed really delighted by how the short concert had gone. Here’s a link to them.
The Pavel Haas Quartet gave two concerts at the East Neuk festival earlier in the month (Veronika Jarůšková and Peter Jarůšek also played Dvořák trios with Boris Giltburg, to great acclaim). You can now catch up with most of the pieces from the full Quartet’s concerts (the second with Boris Giltburg) in two short programmes on BBC Radio 3, available for a few weeks on BBC Sounds:
The Korngold was a complete revelation to me, and the Dvorak (which they have of course recorded) was as usual a delight. As for their intense Janacek, here is the reviewer for the Edinburgh Music Review:
I have been to perhaps a dozen performances of Janáček’s ‘Intimate Letters’ (Quartet No. 2) over the years, including by the great Smetana Quartet in the RDS in Dublin in the late 70s. I knew that I would be captivated by the music. I read in the programme that the performers had studied with Milan Škampa, the legendary violist of the Smetana Quartet. I knew I was about to hear an informed and technically excellent performance.
I knew nothing. I have no hesitation in stating that the performance of Janáček’s ‘Intimate Letters’ that I had the privilege of experiencing live in Kilrenny on 30th June 2022 was by far the finest performance I have heard, live or otherwise, of this extraordinary work. I am not alone. Walking back to the car after the concert, multiple strangers shared in breathless tones much the same sentiment with me.
And indeed the performance is something very special — though you do need to listen in decent headphones to appreciate the extraordinary dynamic range.
This is the PHQ’s twentieth-anniversary year (and what a journey — of their nine CDs, no less than five won Gramophone awards for the best chamber music disc of the year, and one of these won the overall accolade of CD of the Year). But they sound as fresh as ever. Perhaps because they have had to renew themselves more often than they probably would have liked (in the early years in the second violin position, and then latterly after their founding violist very sadly had to leave because of family illness). But the new violist, Luosha Fang, is surely deeply impressive and I think the quartet has never sounded better. Let’s hope for another more settled period with more recordings to come. And meanwhile I can be thankful again for some of the best concert experiences of my life, and the existing CDs to remember them by.
The extraordinary Elisabeth Brauß played again last night at Wigmore Hall, to the warmest of receptions. The concert last night was live-streamed, and is available to watch for 90 days here. In an engagingly varied programme she offered us some rarely performed Hindemith, Brahms’ late four Klavierstücke, and Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien, all done with such verve and then wonderful delicacy, as variously called for — just a delight.
But the recital started Beethoven’s Op. 109 Sonata, which inspired Elisabeth to quite mesmerising playing with heart-stopping moments: transcendental music, and a performance to more than stand comparison with the very best I’ve heard. Extraordinary, as I say.