A Distinguished Concert by the Pavel Haas Quartet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schubert, Britten, Shostakovich Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jarůšková, Marek Zwiebel (violins); Pavel Nikl (viola); Peter Jarůšek (cello) with Daniil Trifonov (piano). Wigmore Hall, London 2.12.2013,  (CC)
Schubert – Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
Britten  – String Quartet No. 2 in C, Op. 36
Shostakovich – Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57

The Pavel Haas Quartet has made quite a reputation for itself, so unsurprisingly this Wigmore concert pretty much sold out. The decision to start with Schubert’s C minor Quartettsatz (1820) seemed on paper to represent a call-to-arms. In the event it was remarkably restrained, the Haas Quartet very deliberately underlining Schubert’s lyric impulse over the innate power of the C Minor home key. There were moments of great beauty, and first violinist Veronika Jarůšková’s tone was possessed of great beauty. Arguably this was a most Schubertian reading, one very different from the Amadeus Quartet’s famous and justifiably lauded fiery account for Deutsche Grammophon.

Not so very long ago the Belcea Quartet presented Britten’s First Quartet at this esteemed venue. Now it was the turn of the Second Quartet of 1945 to get an outing. The Pavel Haas Quartet’s reading was magnificent in its foregrounding of the more progressive elements of Britten’s writing. At the heart of Britten’s quartet is a “Chacony” (no accidental choice given Britten’s admiration of Henry Purcell). The concentration of the Haas Quartet’s hushed stillness here was magnificently memorable; the first violin line was often radiant. The solo, cadenza-like sections proved what talented players the individuals of the Quartet are from the rich tone of cellist Peter Jarůšek to the eloquent second violin of Marek Zwiebel.

Daniil Trifonov impressed at the Proms this year in Glazunov, but was perhaps less on form for a programme of Schumann, Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky at the Wigmore in October. Back at the top of his game here, his sound was massive, and it positively shone at the opening of Shostakovich’s masterpiece from 1940. More, it felt as if Trifonov and the Haas Quartet were equal partners. Taut and intense throughout, this was a fully realised, mature reading that moved from the granitic to the violent to a strangely Bachian Intermezzo. The finale emerged as a breath of fresh air. Trifonov’s mastery of the keyboard was never in doubt; and neither was his ability in chamber music. The finale was sophisticated, yet simultaneously a breath of fresh air.

Nice programming, with Britten’s centrepiece flanked by works of composers admired by Britten. A lovely evening.

Colin Clarke

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