Music

PHQ, at the Edinburgh Festival

Photo by Petra Hajska

There was an extraordinary concert by the Pavel Haas Quartet at the Edinburgh Festival on Tuesday morning, with a BBC radio recording available for a month. They gave very fine performances of

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.

There is a good piece on the concert here.

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.

Jeunes Etoiles

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.

PHQ, twenty years on, at East Neuk

Pavel Haas Quartet 2021 — Photo: Marco Borggreve

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:

Korngold: String Quartet No 3 & Janáček String Quartet No 2 ‘Intimate Letters

Suk: Meditation on the Old Czech Hymn ‘St Wenceslas’ Op 35a & Dvořák: Piano Quintet No 2 in A major Op 81

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.

Elisabeth Brauß at Wigmore Hall

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.

One True Logic

There’s a new book out by Owen Griffiths and Alex Paseau, One True Logic: A Monist Manifesto (OUP). As the title suggests, this argues against logical pluralism. Yes, of course, there are myriad logical systems which we can concoct and study as interesting mathematical objects. But what about the logic we actually use in reasoning about them and about other mathematical matters? Is there in fact one correct logic which tracks what really does follow from what? Our authors take a conservative line, in that they are anti-pluralist: there is indeed one true logic for in-earnest applications. They are unconservative in defending a highly infinitary logic in that role.

I’ve read the first few chapters with enjoyment and enlightenment. But I’m going to have to shelve the book for the moment, as it will be too distracting from other commitments to engage seriously with the rest of it for a while. One of the delights of somewhat senior years is finding it more difficult to think about more than one thing at a time. (“But what’s new?” murmurs Mrs Logic Matters from the wings.)


For a start, I must continue cracking on with the category theory project. I have now revised Chapters 1 to 15 of Beginning Category Theory. So here they are, in one long PDF which also includes the remaining unrevised chapters from the 2015/2018 Gentle Intro.

In this iteration there are quite a few minor changes to Chapters 1 to 13 (correcting typos, clarifying some phrasing, deleting an unnecessary section, adding a new theorem in §12.2, etc.), though there is nothing very significant there. I have also now revised Chapter 15, the first of the two general chapters on limits/colimits. This and the preceding chapter on equalisers/co-equalisers could surely do with more polishing and lightening-up in places. But as I’ve said previously, I’m including revised chapters when they are at least an improvement on what went before (I’m not waiting for final-draft perfection!).


If you are like me, you are looking for the more-than-occasional consoling distractions from the state of the wider world. Let me share one.

Of the great pianists I have had the chance to hear live over the years, the one I perhaps find the most emotionally engaging of all is Maria João Pires. Her unmannered directedness goes straight to the heart. So here she is, playing Schubert, Debussy and Beethoven, in a video recorded in Gstaad last August.

New Brahms album from the PHQ

The Pavel Haas Quartet’s recent performances of the Brahms quintets with their friends Boris Giltburg and Pavel Nikl (I’ve caught some online) have been just stunning. And now there is a new album released today. Extraordinary.

For a world gone awry

“The St Matthew Passion is one of the most moving experiences of our common humanity that it is possible to share. The story of the Passion of Christ remains today a living drama and moral dilemma of universal relevance, in which — whatever our spirituality or culture — all of us are confronted with our own mortality, our own search for answers. We all share its humanity. Bach’s immense genius is to step completely outside the liturgical framework by placing us at the very heart of the drama: we become the actors, we take part in the action, we feel it, in our sensibility and even physically. We traverse a drama that is above all human: injustice, betrayal, love, sacrifice, forgiveness, remorse, compassion, pity … In quite unprecedented fashion, Bach conveys and makes us feel the fragility and failings of humanity and describes a world gone awry, where love and faith are the only answers. In seeking to challenge and console the human conscience, he offers us genuine ‘balm for the soul’, universal and timeless.”

Thus Raphaël Pichon, in the booklet for his stunning new recording of the Matthew Passion on Harmonia Mundi with his Ensemble Pygmalion and a stella cast of singers. The short video linked above is of Sabine Devieilhe singing the aria ‘Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben’ from an earlier performance. And here is a wonderful video of a complete performance from last year.

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