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.