Pavel Haas Quartet
Haydn / Dvořák
Kirche St.Peter, Zurich, 2022-08-21
2022-08-28 — Original posting
Das Pavel Haas Quartett in der Kirche St.Peter—hinreißend (zumeist!) — Zusammenfassung
Im dritten Konzert der vierteiligen Serie “Neue Konzertreihe Zürich – Streichquartette in der Kirche St. Peter” engagierte die Hochuli Konzert AG das 2002 gegründete Pavel Haas Quartet. Es ist dies ein Ensemble mit einer ausgezeichneten, internationalen Reputation—nicht nur im Bereich der slawischen und speziell der tschechischen Musik, sondern im ganzen Spektrum der Hoch-, Spät- und Postromantik, von Brahms und Schubert bis hin zu Prokofjew und Schostakowitsch. Das Ensemble setzt sich zusammen aus der Gründerin, Veronika Jarůšková, an der ersten Violine, ihrem Ehemann Peter Jarůšek am Cello, sowie Marek Zwiebel (zweite Violine) und Luosha Fang an der Bratsche. Letztere ist im Moment im Ausstand. Bis Ende Jahr übernimmt Karel Untermüller den Viola-Part. Für die Aufführung sollte dies kein schlechtes Omen sein, hat das Quartett doch schon mehr als ein halbes Dutzend Wechsel in den Mittelstimmen “verdaut”—ohne Einbußen in der Reputation.
Das Programm eröffnete mit dem Streichquartett in G-dur, op.76/1 von Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1832). Leider erfüllten dessen erste zwei Sätze die hochgesteckten Erwartungen nicht. Erst in den Sätzen III (Menuett & Trio) und IV (Allegro ma non troppo) spielte das Quartett auf dem erwarteten, ausgezeichneten Niveau.
Im zweiten Teil des Programms wandte sich das Ensemble dem Haupt-Exponenten der tschechischen Komponisten, Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) und dessen vorletztem Streichquartett Nr.13 in G-dur, op.106 (B.192) zu. Hier nun ließ die Aufführung keine Wünsche mehr offen—slawische Musik, “wie sie im Buche steht”! Der starke Applaus war somit letztlich verdient. Als Zugabe kündigte Marek Zwiebel einen weiteren Satz von Dvořák an: aus dessen “Zypressen” (Cypřiše) B.152, einem für Streichquartett umgeschriebenen Zyklus von Liebesliedern, die Nr.9, “Ó duše drahá jedinká“ (Du einzig teure Seele, nur für Dich). Ein sehr stimmungsvoller Ausklang!
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- Haydn: String Quartet in G major, op.76/1
- Dvořák: String Quartet No.13 in G major, op.106, B.192
- Encore — Dvořák: No.9 from “Cypresses” (Cypřiše) for String Quartet, B.152
- A CD to the Concert
|Venue, Date & Time|
Kirche St.Peter in Zurich, 2022-08-21 17:00h
|Series / Title||Neue Konzertreihe Zürich, Streichquartette in der Kirche St.Peter|
|Organizer||Hochuli Konzert AG|
|Reviews from related events||Concerts at Kirche St.Peter, Zurich|
Concerts in this Series
Pavel Haas Quartet — Konservatorium Bern, 2017-12-04
Concert performances of Dvořák’s String Quartet No.13 in G major, op.106
- Veronika Jarůšková, violin
- Marek Zwiebel, violin
- Karel Untermüller, viola
- Peter Jarůšek, cello
I have witnessed the ensemble once so far, 4.5 years ago, in Bern. Back then, the violist was Radim Sedmidubský, later succeeded by Luosha Fang, who again was recently succeeded by Karel Untermüller. The ensemble’s Website states that Karel Untermüller is playing the viola part till end of the year. The quartet’s press photos (see also above) still feature Luosha Fang. This suggests that Ms. Fang is on temporary leave and will / may return to the ensemble next year.
- Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809): String Quartet in G major, op.76/1
- Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904): String Quartet No.13 in G major, op.106, B.192
“Back to normal / pre-pandemic concerts”, I was tempted to say when I saw how well the nave of the Kirche St.Peter was filled. The balconies remained closed to the audience. They serve as artists’ room for quartet events. The one exception: I once more enjoyed the privilege of a “photographer’s seat” on the organ balcony, next to the organ’s Rückpositiv, with excellent view onto the podium.
Concert & Review
Haydn: String Quartet in G major, op.76/1
Composer & Work
- Allegro con spirito
- Adagio sostenuto
- Menuetto: Presto
- Allegro ma non troppo
After the op.76 series, Haydn only published two additional quartets, op.77 (the “Lobkowitz” quartets), in 1799, followed by a fragment from 1803 (later published as op.103)
I find it always interesting to observe the interaction between the musicians in a string quartet, e.g., hierarchies, who is the leader, centralized vs. distributed control, etc.—and the effect that this has on the musical outcome. In the Pavel Haas Quartet it was visually clear (both in concert, as well as in the press photos) that the founder, Veronika Jarůšková, has the lead function. She and her husband, Peter Jarůšek, form a “strong diagonal”. Marek Zwiebel naturally had close musical ties with his neighbor, Veronika Jarůšková, and similarly, Karel Untermüller at the viola not only maintained contact with the first violin, but often also interacted with his neighbor at the cello. More on that below.
The ensemble is performing on modern (or modernized) instruments, i.e., metal or metal-clad strings and modern, Tourte-type bows.
I. Allegro con spirito
Let me state this right away: in the first two movements, the ensemble performed far below my (high) expectations. The three opening staccato chords sounded dynamic, fluid, forward-moving, determined, but not harsh. The subsequent fugato theme felt flowing—light, “weightless”, “airy” in the articulation. However, up to the f in bar 32, with every entry, the theme gradually seemed to lose substance and definition, acquiring a slight scent of sloppiness. Mainly in f and fz moments, and in the climax of the exposition (bars 56 – 70), the ensemble showed grip and firmness. I actually liked how the quartet performed a ritenuto in bars 64 – 67 (the homophonic fz and staccato), resuming the original pace with the p in bar 68.
The lack of substance / definition in the main theme was not the biggest issue, though. What I found much more disconcerting were the superficialities in the intonation—not with the new / temporary member at the viola, but primarily with the first violin. True, the top voice is rather busy, if not virtuosic—and highly exposed—but with an ensemble of such high reputation, this should not happen. The poignant sound of the metal e” string reinforced that dominance—this made me long for gut strings!
II. Adagio sostenuto
Haydn writes “a mezza voce” in addition to the sostenuto in the title, whereby the latter primarily refers to the tempo. And sotto voce it was, indeed. The irritation from the persisted: maybe the intonation issues in the first movement caused me to listen extra carefully? In any case, I did not feel at ease with the intonation—already in the first bars, but most prominently later, in solos where the first violin moves into extreme heights. I can’t say whether it was just discomfort from the intonation issues, or whether there were other aspects of the interpretation that caused it to feel somewhat aseptic, lacking warmth? As in the first movement, the best, most coherent moments happened in f segments.
The quartet’s vibrato was largely inconspicuous, certainly not strong enough to affect the intonation. Bad tuning could not have been the issue: the musicians did not re-tune prior to the Menuetto—plus, in the case of obvious mis-tuning, it should have been no problem for the ensemble to stop, tune again, and start anew? And: the last solo (ascending up to c”’) was absolutely clean!
III. Menuetto: Presto
Ah—at last!! The Menuetto is rather unusual: fast, witty, virtuosic—like the precursor of a Scherzo. And with this movement, all the issues appeared forgotten, blown away by this fun piece. Fast, restless, but controlled (no hasty pushing forward), astounding precision and coordination, wild, ferocious in the ff eruptions—quartet playing at the highest level! It felt as if all of a sudden the ensemble was a different one!
The Trio: just as excellent! There was a stark contrast to a folksy pace—like a peasant dance. Strong agogic swaying in every bar, with extra ritenuti in the repeat, and similar differentiation in the second part and its repeat: lovely and excellent, indeed!
IV. Allegro ma non troppo
For the first bars in this movement (in G minor, amazingly!), Haydn writes f. Here, it was mf at most: dark, restrained, mysterious, full of tension, even suspense. Ony in bar 6, as the music moved into the descant, the soundscape brightened up. A brilliant idea! The following segment with its quaver triplet chains, especially in the first violin and the cello (grumbling like an earthquake!): virtuosic, enthralling—excellent! Then, there was a sudden mood change with the fz syncopes (bars 54ff): focus, coherence, precision, and clarity.
The recap section ends in a fermata. After that (bar 138), the music modulates to G major (at last!) for the coda—and it feels transfigured! Serene, like distant memories, lovely. In bar 172, the mood swings again: a virtuosic build-up to ff. After seven bars, however, Haydn appears to transport the theme into the folksy atmosphere of the Trio, with an intermittent, descending f
scale—until the ff blast of the final 6 bars closes the movement. The whole G major coda turns out to be one of Haydn’s typical, brilliant jokes. I’m sure the audience at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy II (1765 – 1833) was smiling, if not bursting out laughing!
Problems with Changes in Staff?
I’m still baffled by the rather obvious issues in the first two movements. Changes in staff are nothing extraordinary with chamber music formations. Only a minority of the string quartets can keep a given configuration over years, let alone decades. The Pavel Haas Quartet has “digested” over half a dozen staff changes. Karel Untermüller performed well, so it is unlikely that he was the direct cause for these issues. The fact that the ensemble has (and still is) enjoying a top reputation ever since its first recording in 2006 speaks for the technical, musical and emotional strength of the “lead team”, Veronika Jarůšková and her husband, Peter Jarůšek.
In the end, however, the quartet members are all humans—and it doesn’t take much (a mishap, feeling unwell, an argument / disagreement, etc.) to cause distraction in a performance. Or were there problems with adapting to the acoustics? An experienced ensemble like this one should be able to cope with such issues.
Whatever it was, the ensemble took two movements to recover / regain their performance standard. Bad luck for the audience, I guess?
Overall Rating: ★★★★
Dvořák: String Quartet No.13 in G major, op.106, B.192
Composer & Work
- Allegro moderato (G major)
- Adagio ma non troppo (E♭ major)
- Molto vivace (B minor / A♭ major) — Un poco meno mosso (D major) — Tempo I
- Finale: Andante sostenuto — Allegro con fuoco
See also my report from an earlier concert performance of Dvořák’s op.106 in the same series, on 2018-10-28.
With the issues in the first two Haydn movements, it was no surprise that the musicians spent several minutes for very careful (re-)tuning prior to entering the podium again for the second part. Obviously, with the Dvořák quartet, they did not want to allow for any flaws (let alone major mishaps) to happen. And indeed:
I. Allegro moderato
The light, gentle opening is deceptive: from the p beginning, the music rapidly gained substance. The highly expressive dynamics culminated in ff pesante exclamations that left no doubt: here, the Pavel Haas Quartet was operating in its home turf! There was this “Slavonic” agogic and dynamic swaying, so typical of Dvořák’s music! And the unanimous playing, the coherence, e.g., in duets of the two violins, the well-balanced soundscape—exemplary! Waves of almost violent density / intensity, alternating with atmospheric pp passages full of tension and mystery, sometimes “foggy” (e.g., at ). The final build-up to the enthralling coda alone was highly impressive!
Not just the ensemble performance was impressive across the wide dynamic and expressive spectrum, but also every single voice: coherence not just technically, but in expression, sonority, emotion. This clearly included Karel Untermüller: he may have kept watching the others more closely than a long-standing member of the ensemble, but his playing never hinted at the fact that he has only joined the team very recently.
II. Adagio ma non troppo
A highly atmospheric beginning: into a mysterious minor third, sotto voce in cello and viola, the second violin proposes a simple theme on the g string, ascending and descending again, rapidly building up intensity and expression! Within a few bars, the first violin picks up this motif, alters and expands it. The interpretation rapidly gained incredible emotional and expressive depth: so atmospheric, warm, melancholic, and so characteristic of the late Dvořák: beautiful!
A wonderful movement (and interpretation) indeed, so often reminding of the “American” melodies—genuine and Slavonic folk tunes into which Dvořák has “embodied peculiarities of the Indian music”. These melancholic traits persist throughout the movement—not just at the beginning, but also later, e.g., at  (Tempo I). But the music wasn’t just melancholic: around the center, at the climax, it attained the intensity and urgency of a dramatic opera scene, with the artists “leaning into the music”. The subsequent collapse was as dramatic as the build-up—but even then, the ensemble maintained the presence, the intensity.
The collapse isn’t final, of course: the melancholy, the mysterious atmosphere returned, aftershocks, followed by transfigured segments, again building up to passionate waves of incredible intensity. And this serene, peaceful closing: enrapturing! And a masterpiece, no doubt!
III. Molto vivace — Un poco meno mosso — Tempo I
In the interpretation by the Pavel Haas Quartet, the earnest, third movement in B minor felt like a true Scherzo. Music full of determination, highly intense, performed like “sitting at the edge of the chair”. Coherent, well-balanced in sound and sonority, rich in colors! In a sudden change in atmosphere after a general rest, the A♭ major episode (a Trio?) started serene, swaying like a barcarolle. However, it never lost tension and presence, built up to a jubilant climax, ending in “American mood” again, before modulating back to B minor, for the return of the initial theme, the intense and enthralling “Scherzo“.
The D major episode (Un poco meno mosso, a Trio II?) was even more serene, idyllic than the A♭ major segment: airy, peaceful, building up to a folk dance, then (inevitably) reverting to the final vehement, almost violent B minor section.
IV. Finale: Andante sostenuto — Allegro con fuoco
The introductory Andante sostenuto bars featured both heavenly serenity and expectation. It took a single bar to accelerate and discharge into the Allegro con fuoco. The latter combined dancing playfulness with tension and unanimous passion and virtuosity. It was fascinating to follow the performance through the rubato, the changes in atmosphere and character, e.g., to the E♭ major segment full of suspense.
The brief Andante sostenuto interjection (at ) led into a melancholic hymn (Un pochettino più mosso), a responsory with the second violin and the viola in solemn unison forming the cantor. At , that canticle mutated into folk song fragments. After a brief return of the hymn, the performance seamlessly moved back to Allegro con fuoco, alternating between extreme passion and suspense.
A movement that is highly demanding even just in maintaining coordination and coherence through the many changes in tempo and character. The performance by the Pavel Haas Quartet was setting standards—fascinating, excellent, phenomenal!
Encore — Dvořák: No.9 from “Cypresses” (Cypřiše) for String Quartet, B.152
Composer & Work
In 1865, Antonín Dvořák (1841 – 1904) composed 18 love songs, published under the title “Cypresses” (Cypřiše), B.11, based on poems by Gustav Pfleger Moravský (1833 – 1875). 1887, 22 years later, the compose arranged 12 of these songs (Nos. 2-4, 6-9, 12, 14, and 16-18) for string quartet. He published these under the same name, “Cypresses” (Cypřiše) for String Quartet, B.152.
As encore, Marek Zwiebel announced one of the quartet arrangements of “Cypresses”, B.152: No.9, “Thou only dear one but for me” (Ó duše drahá jedinká), Moderato. In the original song cycle (B.11), this is No.4. Dvořák’s string quartet arrangements of “Cypresses” are among the favorite encores in concerts featuring works by this composer. So far, I have heard No.3, two more instances of No.9, and No.11—all as encores.
A song of infinite beauty, warmth and peace! Dvořák darkened the sound by having all instruments perform con sordino—pp throughout, with the exception of two short f climaxes. In the first half, the viola carries the melody, followed by the second violin for the second verse. Despite the mutes, it showed the beautiful, singing sonorities of the middle instruments. Amazingly, even though at a higher pitch, the second violin seemed almost indistinguishable from the viola. A warm, highly romantic song, murmuring, dreamy, intimate, cosy. Undeniably the ideal encore after Dvořák’s op.106!
In the second part of the program, the Pavel Haas Quartet confirmed its status as one of the (maybe even the) foremost ensembles for (Czech) composers. I have no doubt that this extends to other Slavonic composers, too. Too bad the Haydn quartet was a partial disappointment. Initially, I thought that this had to do with the recent change in staff—however, from the performance after the first two movements, this can be excluded. Hardly imaginable also that it’s because Haydn isn’t in the ensemble’s core repertoire. I maintain that this was an unfortunate mishap.
The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Hochuli Konzert AG, for the press tickets to this concert.
A CD to the Concert
2010, 12 years ago, the Pavel Haas Quartet (then in the configuration with Eva Karová at the second violin, Pavel Nikl at the viola) recorded a CD featuring two of Antonín Dvořák’s late string quartets:
Dvořák: String Quartet No.13 in G major, op.106; String Quartet No.12 in F major, op.96, “American”
Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jarůšková, Eva Karová, Pavel Nikl, Peter Jarůšek)
Supraphon SU 4038-2 (CD, stereo, ℗ / © 2010)
Booklet 32pp., en / de / fr / cz