Concert review

Pavel Haas String Quartet

21st November 2022

The Pavel Haas String Quartet from the Czech Republic has earned over the past twenty years an enviable reputation as one of the finest ensembles on the planet. It was a privilege to hear their concert in Penrith Methodist Church – a memorable experience for all those who were fortunate to be there. From the first notes of Haydn’s Quartet in G op.76 no.1 there was something special in the air. Total technical security allowed musical imagination to burgeon, especially from first violinist Veronika Jaruskova who responded to every accent or change of key with acute sensitivity. Haydn’s humour is ever present but it takes a special insight to reveal it so engagingly. The spacious Adagio was sonorous; the Menuetto sparkled; the Trio was treated as an improvisatory serenade. The finale started in serious G minor and brought fine energy and style from all four players.

Prokofiev wrote his String Quartet no.2 in Nalchik in the Caucasus where he stayed during the Autumn of 1941. It is based on Kabardinian folk music – ‘untouched Oriental folklore’ as Prokofiev put it. The Quartet engaged with this earthy music with gusto -unrefined dance sequences and angular melodies. The second movement’s exotic main theme entered eloquently from the cello of Peter Jarusek, later blending with the first violin – one of the most impressive moments of the whole work. The finale returned to action and a vibrant quartet sonority.

If many people found the Prokofiev unfamiliar the majority certainly found Pavel Haas’s Quartet no.2 so. It is to the credit of the Pavel Haas Quartet that they could perform these two works with such conviction and evident enjoyment that listeners were drawn into unknown regions and discovered wider musical horizons.  The first movement, titled ‘Landscape’, is mostly idyllic – pure-toned violin melodies over gentle accompaniment. The unusual glissandi of the second movement suggests problems with a rustic cart and were enthusiastically performed by all four players. ‘The Moon and I’ is a nocturne that uses Jewish synagogue music to evoke contemplation; violist Karel Untermüller ended the movement  with a solo of considerable pathos. Second violinist Marek Zwiebel set off the finale with ominous trills  - a warning of the wild night to come, however one of the most affecting episodes of the whole quartet comes near the end – an autobiographical touch when Haas introduces one of his songs which had connections with Marie Jaruskova, a flame from the past. This beautiful, hushed interlude was performed with great sensitivity and feeling. A rare concert indeed.

John Upson

Updated on 10th April 2024
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