Pavel Haas Qt

Dvořák trios … played by the dream team

Chamber music playing doesn’t get better than this. The Pavel Haas Quartet have made two stunning, award-winning, CDs of Quintets by Dvořák and by Brahms with Boris Giltburg as pianist. Now half the Quartet get together with Giltburg again to play all four Dvořák trios, the final Dumky Trio of course, and perhaps you already know the third trio — but the first two were quite new to me.

This is just a marvellous double CD. Here’s Katherine Cooper, writing for Presto Music:

As on the earlier recording of the [Dvořák] Piano Quintet, there are moments when the collective sound is so massive that it hardly seems credible that so few musicians are involved – notably in the final athletic stretches of this first trio (just before the music ebbs away like a mechanical toy running out of battery), in the near-symphonic first movement of the Piano Trio No. 3, and as the three hurtle towards the finishing-line in the first of the six ‘Dumky’ which opens No. 4. (Giltburg switches from his ’beloved’ rather soft-focus Fazioli to a bigger-boned instrument for these two later works, and both string-players match its brawn head-on).

The more introspective stretches are also beautifully done, not least the slow movements of the second and third trios (both composed in the aftermath of bereavement): the muted colours of that Fazioli really come into their own in the lovely elegy for Dvořák’s daughter in No. 2, and Jarůšek and Jarůšková respond in kind with a fragile lyricism that’s enormously touching.

A triumphant debut for this new super-trio, then, and one which whets the appetite for whatever they might choose to record next.

The reviewer at Europadisc is equally enthusiastic, concluding about the Dumky Trio:

Here, above all, these performers are in their element, and they deliver performances that are richly satisfying, exploring the full spectrum of tone colours, and combining penetrating introspection with infectious high spirits. The fast passages of the second Dumka are enough to lift anyone from despondency, while the strings’ ethereal response to the piano’s opening phrase in no.3 is a thing of wonder, as is the rounded tone of the piano’s single-line continuation. The fourth Dumka has a deliciously deliberate tread; the exultant opening of the fifth rings out, its glorious cello line punctuated by pizzicato violin chords; and the sixth and final Dumka is underpinned by wonderfully resonant cello fifths, giving way to spectacularly full-throttle tuttis. Make no mistake, this is Dvořák playing of the highest order and – even against some strong competition – these performances as a whole set a new benchmark in this marvellous quartet of works. Urgently recommended!

Yes indeed. This really is wonderfully good!

The Pavel Haas Quartet at Wigmore Hall

The great PHQ played a short concert of music by Czech-born composers at lunchtime today at Wigmore Hall. The medieval chorale on which the Meditation by Dvořák’s pupil and son-in-law Josef Suk is based is still well known in the Czech Republic. Martinů’s Second Quartet (1925) was the first of his works to garner him international attention. Brno-born Korngold’s Third Quartet dates from 1944-5.

This was one of PHQ’s first concerts with their new permanent (oh, let’s hope!) viola player. They have had troubled times in that position since their founder violist Pavel Nikl sadly had to leave the quartet in 2016 due to family illness, and have taken their time after another sudden departure to settle on a replacement. They have played a number of concerts to much acclaim with the terrific Dana Zemtsov (who is based in Amsterdam); but it is very understandable — famously intensive rehearsers that they are — that they have in the end chosen to work from now with another Slovak living the Prague, another fine player, the young Šimon Truszka, previously of the Kukal Quartet. May it work out well for all of them! We need PHQ to be back in the recording studio.

In concert: Dana Zemtsov and PHQ

I have been listening to a couple of CDs by the violist Dana Zemtsov. And I thought I’d also share this video of a relaxed and very engaging short concert she gave with friends a couple of years ago. I particularly enjoyed the opening two pieces by Beethoven and Lutosławski, and the final pieces (starting at 51.40) by Shostakovich.


What took me to exploring Dana Zemtsov’s recordings was finding that she is to be the violist with the Pavel Haas Quartet for the coming months. She is obviously a very fine player, but also (or so it strikes me) her approach and playing style should be a terrific fit. [Added: And a review of their Madrid concert, a couple of days ago, comments that they were “perfectamente integrados”, mentioning particularly Dana Zemtsov’s viola as something “fantástico” given how new she is to the quartet.] I really do hope this works out for them all — we so need the PHQ to settle into a happy new line-up and then feel able get back to the recording studio!

Meanwhile, here are two BBC radio recordings from PHQ concerts at last year’s Bath Mozartfest. First, the Prokofiev’s String quartet No 2 (which they recorded on a prize-winning CD a dozen years ago) and Schubert’s String quartet in G major, D 887 (starting at 6.14). [You might need to use a VPN pointed to the UK to access BBC sounds.]

And some other PHQ news, in case you missed it. In the BBC Radio 3 Record Review programme last Saturday, their “Building a Library” episode was surveying recordings of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 8 in C minor. Surely one of the very greatest pieces of chamber music of the second half of the twentieth century. The reviewer’s top recommendation was the PHQ recording. So yet another accolade for them. You can listen to a podcast of the episode here. And then their recording of the Shostakovich was broadcast here (starting at 17.00).

Music for the end of the year

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:

I’ve also been intrigued by the opening chapters of

but I’m not at all sure what to make of Tennant’s deviant form of logicism and his handling of logical objects more generally. And as you’ve noticed, I’m still wrestling with and learning from

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.

Thirdly, let’s revisit the extraordinarily stellar Lea Desandre, filmed by candlelight, from Rouen … escaping our mad world for an hour. Sheer delight again, and just wonderful singing and playing.

The Pavel Haas Quartet, at Wigmore Hall, online

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!

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.

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.

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.

The Pavel Haas Quartet play Haydn Op. 42

From photo by Marco Borggreve [Click for full original image]
Grim, grim days.

For fifteen minutes of consolation, here is a wonderful performance of Haydn’s Op. 42 String Quartet by the Pavel Haas Quartet. It is on the BBC website, a late night programme from a few days ago: the Haydn starts at 4:59:30.

This must, I think have been recorded from a Wigmore Hall concert some years ago now, when the violist was Pavel Nikl. So the cheering photo, from the quartet’s latest gallery from the fine photographer Marco Borggreve, doesn’t quite fit! But I thought I would post it anyway …

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