AntonŪn DVOŘŃK (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]

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

Itís 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. Theyíre a truly communicative and enveloping ensemble and have been richly recorded in the Rudolfinum by the Supraphon engineers. All right, I suppose itís 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 doesnít do it, and neither does the Panocha, and I donít 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 donít 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 itís an approach consonant with the Vlachís 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 isnít 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?

Iím sorry to sound more critical than perhaps I really feel. These are virile and assured readings. Itís just that others are Ďbetterí.

Jonathan Woolf

Virile and assured readings but others are Ďbetterí.