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S & H Recital Review

Haydn, Smetana, Mozart Prazák Quartet, Wigmore Hall, Sunday, June 15th, 2003 (CC)


The Prazák Quartet plays with a commendable homogeneity of purpose. Tone is, in the best Czech tradition, always warm and tasteful and rhythms are infectiously sprung. Small wonder, then, that there was a near-capacity audience for this Sunday morning concert (indeed, it was one of the most delightful pre-prandial entertainments I can remember).

Two Viennese masters sandwiched the music of their native country: Haydn’s A major Quartet, Op. 20 No. 6 (of 1772) and Mozart’s D major, K575 (1789) straddled Smetana’s dramatic second quartet in D minor (1882/3). Haydn seemed the perfect way to open this most civilised of concerts: the quartet’s warm sound made the A major seem all the more inviting, leading to a grazioso Adagio and a dignified Menuetto (with, nevertheless, a distinctly cheeky side). The high-spirited finale (fuga) married joy with a careful elucidation of textures.

Smetana’s mode of expression in his quartets is highly concentrated. Even when dance rhythms appear (czardas and, of course, polka, make their presence felt), they are subsumed within the prevailing taut musical argument. Hardly surprisingly, with the quartet on home turf, this was a remarkable performance (the quartet was founded while its members were students at the Prague Conservatory, between 1974 and 1978). Pianissimi were lovingly presented, drama was heightened and above all an aching nostalgia, when it surfaced, was most affecting. The quartet’s sense of ensemble was another remarkable facet of this account, particularly in the third movement.

Mozart’s sunniest D major was an antidote to Smetana’s D minor clouds. The gentle Allegretto first movement was lovingly played; the violist, Josef Kluson, shone beautifully in the Andante (not the only place his playing impressed, incidentally), while Michal Kanka’s cello sang with great character in the Trio of the (fast) Menuetto. All four players, in fact, were superb throughout the concert, both individually and as a whole. The quartet’s reassuring, homogenised sound was a delight and their tuning consistently accurate. Memorable.

Colin Clarke



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