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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
String Quartet No.12 in F major Op.96 American B.179 (1893) [26:26]
String Quartet No.13 in G major Op.106 B.192 (1895) [36:37]
Pavel Haas Quartet
rec. June 2010, Rudolfinum, Prague
SUPRAPHON SU 4038-2 [63:14]

Experience Classicsonline

These are warmly sympathetic and very attractive performances, and I’m happy to make their acquaintance. I’m also happy to listen again to the Pavel Haas Quartet whose previous recordings have won great favour, and which I’ve greatly enjoyed. You sense a ‘but’. Well, possibly. Such reservations as I have are localised and principally concern Op.106, not the ubiquitous F major so much.

It’s important to stress the warm and rich tonal blend of the quartet and also their instinct for contrast, even when they take things to what some may consider an extreme. They’re a truly communicative and enveloping ensemble and have been richly recorded in the Rudolfinum by the Supraphon engineers. All right, I suppose it’s time for my objection. I think they make a meal of the first movement of the G major. The contrast between the daintily coquettish violin statements and the answering, aggressive lower string responses is, to me, far too pronounced. It turns the opening paragraphs into virtual warfare. The old Vlach doesn’t do it, and neither does the Panocha, and I don’t know many, if any, quartets that take things to quite this level of extremity, or sculpt things quite so graphically. The effect is to inflate the movement, and beyond it, the quartet itself, to quasi-string orchestral status.

Let me add a rider to the above. If you can accommodate or assimilate their approach, or if it suits your feelings about this admittedly big, powerfully constructed work, then you will find a huge amount to admire. Performers have their own ideas about things. Certainly the slow movement is warmly textured, though I don’t find it as cumulatively moving as the Vlach. I do like the faster tempo the Pavel Haas take for the Molto vivace third movement; the Vlach sound a touch dogged here next to the resinous drive of the newcomers, though it’s an approach consonant with the Vlach’s performance as a whole. The finale strikes me as exceptionally successful as well.

The American receives a fine reading, a few little moments of idiosyncrasy aside, and these are mainly to do with rhythmic inaccuracies in the finale. That and a feeling, here too, that the music isn’t being unfolded as naturally as it might. Tempi are well judged, there is a fine corporate sonority and a good sense of characterisation. That said, and I must say it, do you really need another American?

I’m sorry to sound more critical than perhaps I really feel. These are virile and assured readings. It’s just that others are ‘better’.

Jonathan Woolf








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