Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
String Quartets:
No. 1 in B minor, Op. 50 (1930/31) [23:51]
No. 2 in F, Op. 92 (1941) [21:34]
Sonata for Two Violins in C, Op. 56 (1932) [14:57]
Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jarušková, Eva Karová (violins); Pavel Nikl (viola); Peter Jarušek (cello))
rec. Dominova Studio, Prague, 2-4 April; 10-11 June; 19-20 June 2009. DDD
SUPRAPHON SU3957-2 [60:42]


This wonderfully recorded disc should go a long way to restoring the Prokofiev Quartets to their rightful place in the repertoire. They are both worthy of reappraisal, and herein lies an opportunity to do just that.

The first movement of the First Quartet is active yet contains moments of considerable depth, especially as rendered here. The Haas Quartet seems intent on revealing the profundity of this music. The fact the first quartet ends with a “slow” movement (an Andante) is entirely apposite, therefore; as is the slow introduction to the typically Prokofievian Scherzo. The playing in this scherzo is astonishing, not just technically but also in how the players enter Prokofiev’s individual world so convincingly. The pure magic of this performance lies in the finale, however, at once a meditation and a profound exploration.

The Sonata for Two Violins follows on, the single line opening naturally emerging out of the First Quartet’s quiet close. The traceries of the first movement, which Supraphon’s notes describe as a “recitative duet”, are positively hypnotic here. All credit to Veronika Jarušková and Eva Karová for their near-telepathic resonance and quicksilver responses to the quixotic writing. The difficulties of the second movement Allegro are negotiated with seeming ease, while the Commodo sings sweetly.

The Second Quartet is based on Kabardanian themes. Vít Roubícek’s notes track the themes used in detail. The Haas Quartet present this fascinating score in the very best light, as a multi-faceted (but somewhat raw) jewel. They find real intensity in the central Adagio, too, plus a haunting lyricism unique to this piece, while the full steam-ahead parts of the finale again reveal the Quartet’s excellence.

The recorded sound is magnificent – present, involving and clear. One can really hear the grit in the cello’s outbursts, as well as the purity of tone in the first violinist’s (Veronika Jarušková’s) upper register. There is fierce competition in the Second Quartet from the Hollywood String Quartet on Testament (SBT1052). The Emerson Quartet offers an identical programme over on DG (431 772-2), but it is the Pavel Haas Quartet that now takes top place in this repertoire.

Colin Clarke