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.
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 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 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 …
Of course, these sorts of listings shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But the BBC Music Magazine has just suggested a list of the ten greatest string quartets of all time (that’s ensembles, not compositions). It runs, in chronological order,
Busch Quartet (1912-51)
Borodin Quartet (1945-present)
Quartetto Italiano (1945-80)
Amadeus Quartet (1947-87)
Alban Berg Quartet (1970-2008)
Kronos Quartet (1973-present)
Takács Quartet (1975-present)
Emerson Quartet (1976-2023)
Ébène Quartet (1999-present)
Pavel Haas Quartet (2002-present)
I certainly wouldn’t have included the Kronos in my top ten (I don’t go for their kind of pretentious repertoire), and I do find the Emerson’s impressive gloss not particularly appealing either. Who would I substitute? Certainly, the truly great Smetana Quartet (1945-1989). And probably the Lindsays (1965-2005), who on their best, take-no-prisoners evenings, could be simply stunning in their emotional intensity, and whose recordings still make wonderful listening.
And of course, I am all for the tenth entry! “Stylistically powerful and richly sonorous, the group is known for its passionate and fearless performances,” says the magazine. And certainly, the PHQ have provided some of the most intense musical experiences of my life. Here they are, from a lockdown recording last year, playing my favourite Dvorak quartet, the ‘American’. (At that point, they were between permanent violists, and are joined by their founder-member Pavel Nikl, who sadly had to leave the quartet a few years ago for family reasons.) Enjoy!
Last Autumn, at the Dvořákova Praha festival, Boris Giltburg with Veronika Jarůšková and Peter Jarůšek of the Pavel Haas Quartet played all four of Dvořák’s Piano Trios to great acclaim. You can now hear the rather monumental third of them from a Dutch radio broadcast, which you can stream here. The first piece in the long concert is the Grieg Piano Concerto with Boris Giltburg. The Dvořák Trio starts about 1 hour 33 min into the broadcast.
Press the purple “Speel” button, and the controller then appears at the bottom of the webpage. Enjoy!
The Pavel Haas Quartet back at long last at Wigmore Hall last night, playing two Brahms Quintets, with their original violist Pavel Nikl for the string quintet and their good friend Boris Giltburg for the piano quintet. In simply great form, as the audience agreed, judging by the reception. Free to stream (performance starts about 4.30 in). Don’t miss them.
In these days of Covid, our chances of seeing live concerts from our favourite musicians are much reduced. In particular, since we don’t live in the Czech Republic or nearby, I’m not going to get to see the Pavel Haas Quartet live again for a good while yet. But I will be catching a couple more online concerts, this time recorded for the West Cork Chamber Music Festival. The first is tonight (29th June), and then available on demand for 48 hours. The second is on Saturday (3rd July) and then again available on demand for 48 hours.
I don’t know quite how many readers here ever follow up the musical posts. However, I do occasionally get ‘thank you’ emails! So let me say more about these concerts. Who knows, it might tempt a few readers to catch one or other of them. I hope so!
The first features Martinů, Quartet No.2; Schulhoff, Quartet No.1; Janáček, Quartet No.2 ‘Intimate Letters’. From the West Cork website:
Pavel Haas was a Jewish Czech composer like Schulhoff. They both perished in the Holocaust and the Nazis set out systematically to suppress their music by taking over music publishers and banning all performances of their music. This was lethally effective and it took decades to rediscover their music and to return it to its rightful place in the repertoire. This concert features a Prague-based Czech Quartet playing the music of three well-known Czech composers. Martinů was a wonderful composer of chamber music. He wrote: ‘It is hard for me to express the happiness I feel when I start composing chamber music – the delight of leading the four voices, in a quartet one feels at home, intimate, happy.’ Martinů wrote seven quartets that are seldom heard, hopefully a future Festival will include the full cycle. Schulhoff fought in the First World War and post-War turned away from traditional musical forms, associating them with the decadence of the old order that had led to the catastrophe of world war. He spent the Twenties experimenting with different forms both musically and politically. His First Quartet, dating from 1924, is an explosion of energy but otherwise follows a surprisingly conventional path. Janáček’s two quartets are well-known as they trace in music his obsessional love affairs. Milan Kundera wrote: ‘His music is a breathtakingly close confrontation between tenderness and brutality, madness and peacefulness; it condenses the whole of life, with its hell and its paradise.’
The second concerts features Dvořák, Piano Trio No.3 in F minor Op.65 and Piano Quintet No.2 in A major Op.81. From the concert website again:
For this special concert, Pavel Haas Quartet is joined by Boris Giltburg for two major works by Dvořák, his tempestuous F minor Piano Trio and the infectious delight of his second A major piano quintet. For the Trio the Quartet’s leader, Veronika Jarůšková, and cellist, Peter Jarůšek, join Boris Giltburg. This concert was recorded at the Martinů Hall in Prague. Dvořák’s Third Piano Trio was composed shortly after his mother’s death, it opens in passionate agitation and ends in an emotional tempest. In between comes a tuneful and light-hearted Allegretto leading to a calm and meditative Adagio. Despite his personal loss, Dvořák is able to swathe his distress in a succession of the glorious melodies for which he was so renowned. The opening of the Piano Quintet never loses its magic however often we hear it, while the Andante gives the languid voice of his own instrument, the viola, a leading role. There are no shadows in this unblemished music.
Need I say more? These concerts should indeed be wonderful. Very inexpensive online tickets for the Tuesday concert available here and for the Saturday concert available here.
The PHQ sounding so good too with their very impressive new violist Luosha Fang. It is difficult indeed to believe that they had been rehearsing together only a few weeks when this was filmed. A whole series of live concerts are now announced on their updated website though mostly in the Czech Republic or nearby. But there are two more forthcoming online performances scheduled soon, about which more in a later post.
Boris Giltburg and the Pavel Haas Quartet were playing last night to a live audience at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (that’s in Denmark, near Elsinore, on the Øresund coast).
The concert — in which they performed the Brahms and Dvorak Piano Quintets — was broadcast on Danish radio, and the concert is available for listening online on DR P2. (Player at the foot of the page; their concert starts at 43:04). Great stuff!