Pavel Haas Quartet at Wigmore Hall

String Quartet No.1 in B minor, Op.50
String Quartet in F

Pavel Haas Quartet [Veronika Jaruskova & Eva Karova (violins), Pavel Nikl (viola) & Peter Jarusek (cello)]

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 23 February, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Pavel Haas Quartet. Photo: www.marcoborggreve.comDespite its relatively late opus number, Prokofiev’s First String Quartet represents just his third foray into chamber music, following Overture on Hebrew Themes and the Opus 39 Quintet.

This BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert performance from the Pavel Haas Quartet ensured that each inside part was clarified; a particularly valuable aspect of the interpretation since Prokofiev frequently splits the players into two pairs during the first movement. An invigorating forward drive could be felt throughout this opener, the intent focus of the opening idea countered by an elegant slower theme. The restless feel of Prokofiev’s faster music continued into the chugging accompaniment of the scherzo, if suspended for a while for the sparse Andante introduction to it.

The First Quartet has an unusual structure, ending with the slow movement – rather like Bartók’s Second in its emotional peaks and troughs. Here the slow music was particularly bleak and moving, the musicians softening their tone where appropriate, and refusing to rush.

This approach to quiet dynamics continued into the Ravel, where there was a shock in store in the extremely quiet volume used to open the piece. Elegant was the byword as the first movement unfolded, with the players’ bow-control being extremely fine, and they also listened to each other so that Ravel’s exquisitely detailed scoring could be fully heard.

The pizzicato sections of the second movement scherzo had less rhythmic subtlety, with Veronika Jaruskova’s trills occasionally awry, but by slowing considerably for the trio the Haas musicians achieved a strong sense of contrast. The sublime slow movement was unfolded generously, with great care taken, and which heightened the finale that rushed out of the blocks, the players retaining rhythmic vitality and acute observation of dynamic markings.

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