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Proms Chamber Music 7: Beethoven, Alexander Goehr and Haydn: Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jaruskova – Marie Fuxová (violins) - Pavel Nikl (viola) – Peter Jarusek (cello), Colin Currie (percussion), Jerusalem Quartet (Alexander Pavlovsky - Sergei Bressler (violins) - Amichai Grosz (viola) – Kyril Zlotnikov (cello), Cadogan Hall, London, 29.8.2009 (BBr)

Beethoven: Quartet in C minor, op.18/4 (1799)
Alexander Goehr: Since Brass, Nor Stone… Fantasy for percussion and string quartet, op.80(2008)
Haydn: Quartet in G major, op.77/1 (1799)

A whole weekend of music making celebrating 10 years of the BBC New Generation Scheme, which exists to bring the best of young musicians from around the world to record for the BBC, give live concerts and, bravo to the Beeb, give premières of specially commissioned works – one of those commissions was included in this show.

Over the ten years of the scheme there have been 70 New Generation Artists and this long weekend presents as many of them as could be accommodated and given sufficient time to give us some idea of their abilities and interests. To start, one of the most recent NGAs – the Pavel Haas Quartet from Czechoslovakia.

Beethoven’s Quartet, op.18/4 was written in the same year as Haydn’s opus 77/1 and here is a telling comparison of master and pupil, with Haydn always breaking new ground in his musical thinking and young Ludwig flexing his muscles and looking to go that bit further. But one cannot help feeling that Haydn is still at the top of this game and the young pretender is trying a bit too hard. Or at least that is how it seemed this morning, for the Pavel Haas Quartet gave a rather unsmiling account of the Beethoven opus 18/4, a delightful work, full of Haydnesque whimsy with little of the angst and deep insight he was so soon to display in works like the Eroica Symphony – only four years away! But this was 11.00am and they relaxed into the piece as it progressed, the second movement showing some lightening of design and interpretation, the minuet, already approaching scherzo status, was a touch heavy handed, but the music can take this, and the finale was taken at a rather deliberate tempo which gave the music time to breathe and speak fully to us. Overall, a good performance and a fine start to the series.

When I reported on the première of Alexander Goehr’s Since Brass, Nor Stone last year it was difficult to fully get to grips with the piece because the acoustic of St Andrew Holborn was too reverberant for the many strands to be heard clearly. The subsequent broadcast of the concert by the BBC didn’t exactly make things better so I was looking forward to this performance in the hope that I could, at last, hear what Goehr had written. I was not disappointed. In the beautifully clean and clear acoustic of the Cadogan Hall, every note was clearly audible, every nuance perfectly in place, and we were finally allowed to hear just what a major work this is. Basically, Goehr has created a scherzo with slow sections interjected into the flow of the piece. Percussion and Quartet blended together perfectly, and the gorgeous dream–like middle section, for the strings with glockenspiel, was haunting in its simplicity and beauty. Given today by the original performers it was a joy to hear. It might be a thorny piece – what piece by Goehr doesn’t make us think? – but it I as fine a piece of writing as he has ever done for string quartet.

To end, the Jerusalem Quartet gave a very jovial performance of Haydn’s penultimate (completed) quartet. It was full of good spirits, the jokes well pointed, we must never forget that Haydn wrote music which always raises a smile at the very least, and the players gave of their very best to bring this music to life. In some ways it’s a violin concerto, there is so much prominence given to the first violin, but this was a group effort and what a performance!

A super start to what promises to be a weekend of marvelous music making.

Bob Briggs

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