Pavel Haas Quartet
April 27 2023
Review: William Ruff
Consummate musicianship from the award-winning Czech quartet
The Pavel Haas Quartet from the Czech Republic is one of the world’s leading chamber ensembles, bearing the name of the gifted Czech composer who died in Auschwitz in 1944. They have won a vast number of awards over recent years, including no fewer than five prestigious Gramophone awards. In fact, they’ve become one of the classical music world’s surest bets: if they make a recording, it’s bound to win a major prize.
At Lakeside on Thursday they performed two masterpieces of the quartet repertoire: Schubert’s Quartet in G, D887 and Dvorak’s Quartet No 13, Op. 106. And the same award-winning qualities were evident in both performances: minute attention to details of phrasing and dynamics; the precise placing of ideas within the musical argument; sensitivity to light and shade so that every subtle nuance of the music shines through. Here are four musicians whose individual artistry is equalled by their total unanimity when it comes to shaping the architecture of their repertoire, who listen as creatively as they play.
You need stamina as well as musicianship to play the Schubert’s final quartet. It is on the grandest scale, almost like a symphony in terms of its structural ambition. Schubert took only ten days to complete it, his white-hot inspiration apparent from the very first bar. This is music saturated in high emotion, full of suspense, written in a musical language well in advance of its time. The opening movement is monumental in scale and, in this performance, was full of nervous energy (partly created by the Pavel Haas Quartet’s breath-taking control of dynamics) whilst presenting the audience with an enigma: this is music which doesn’t give its secrets away easily. The slow movement was elegiac and consoling, whilst the Scherzo had a scurrying restlessness, offset by a hugely contrasting hymn-like central section. In the Finale the four players returned to the conflict of the work’s opening in which Viennese elegance seemed to be beset by relentless, almost haunted, passions.
Dvorak’s Op. 106 Quartet is full of the joy of homecoming. He had spent some years in the USA much of it feeling homesick, so it’s not surprising that his return to his native Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) should be marked by a suitably sunny work. It begins with one of the happiest openings of any string quartet and the Pavel Haas Quartet allowed its emotion to shine through. This was also true of the Adagio, as deep an expression of contentment as Dvorak ever wrote. There was extraordinary life to their performance of the Scherzo. This is a movement where the instruments seem to be at loggerheads, so the tender central section came as a relief as well as a real pleasure. And as for the Finale, the Pavel Haas Quartet made it seem as if the main body of the movement could hardly control its own ebullience, ending the work (and their intensely satisfying programme) in joyfully high spirits.
Pavel Haas Quartet
Veronika Jarušková, violin
Marek Zwiebel, violin
Dama Zemstov, viola
Peter Jarušek, cello