The Pavel Haas Quartet On Impressive Form At The Wigmore Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Haas, Beethoven: Pavel Haas Quartet Wigmore Hall Sunday Morning Coffee Concert, Wigmore Hall, London, 30. 10. 2011  (CC)

Pavel Haas: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 3
Beethoven: String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130 (with Grosse Fuge, Op. 133)

Fresh from the triumph of their Gramophone Award-winning disc of Dvorák String Quartets (Supraphon 40382: the disc of the year, and deservedly so), the Pavel Haas Quartet effectively set the Wigmore Hall alight with this intriguing and stimulating coupling of quartets.

Pavel Haas’ First String Quartet was written in 1920. The piece opens with what for all the world could be the opening of a late Beethoven fugue, except here deconstructed into a grainy, disembodied shadow of itself. Lyrisicm is at the core of Haas’ quartet, and this plus its chromatic language places it close, expressively, to the music of Alban Berg (it is just without that final element of extreme angst). An Ivesian distortion of an identifiably Czech-hued theme was also noteworthy before the relative stasis of the opening returned. Veronika Jarusková’s violin was beautifully sweet-toned. Lasting a mere quarter of an hour, this is an expressively concise piece. One could hardly hope to hear a finer performance.

The challenges of late Beethoven proper are huge, and the Haas Quartet gave us an Op. 130 that was clearly an interpretation in progress. Nonetheless, it was a mightily impressive performance. There was a real feel of four equal parts at the opening, and the Czech quartet’s warm sound worked perfectly. Lines were perfectly projected by the individual players, too (as heard from the back of the hall). Tempi were fearless (the second movement Presto was properly so, with a virtuoso scampering first violin). The interpretative decision to make the Alla danza tedesca fourth movement more elusive than usual was interesting and rewarding for the listener; the Cavatina was not over slow (Adagio molto espressivo, but it moved nonetheless) and held moments of radiance. The (in)famous “geklemmt” (“choked”) passage was well caught. All of this stood in high contrast to the Grosse Fuge, a ball of raw energy, full of huge contrasts. The quartet never let the music sag in this fearsome movement, to their credit. If there remained a sense that the players still have mroe to give in this music, that is all to the good – they are but young. The playing was superb (only violist Pavel Nikl seemed rather anonymous). As is quite right after late Beethoven, there was no encore.

Colin Clarke