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Pavel HAAS (1899-1944)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 7 ‘From the Monkey Mountains’ [34:03]
String Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 26 (1933) [24:03]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet No. 53 in D major ‘The Lark’ Hob. III:63, Op. 64/5 (1790) [18:02]
Adamas Quartet (Claudia Schwarz (violin I); Roland Herret (violin II); Anna Dekan (viola); Jakob Gisler (cello)); Ivan Bulbitski (finale of Haas Op. 7)
rec. 22-25 July 2013, Barocksaal, Stift Vorau, Styria, Austria
GRAMOLA 99011 [76:20]

The recipient of a number of awards, the Adamas Quartet as winners of the Jeunesse MehrWERT Prize of the Erste Bank in 2013 were entitled have a recording funded by the sponsors. The Adamas are interested in music outlawed as degenerate by the Nazi regime and here have chosen two works on the prohibited list for their debut: the Haas and the Korngold. To these they add Haydn’s well knownThe Lark’ quartet. 

Joseph Haydn lived in turbulent times marked by war and political upheaval. Under the Nazi regime Korngold, a Jew of Austro/Hungarian birth, was forced to flee Vienna and emigrate to the USA. Pavel Haas, a Jew from Moravia, was deported to his death at Auschwitz. In addition to being Jewish and having their music banned Haas and Korngold are linked in other ways. Both were born within two years of each other in the Moravian (Czech Republic) city of Brno and had Korngold not been taken to Vienna from the age of four, it is more than likely that both would have studied together at the same school.
Haas composed his String Quartet No. 2 titled ‘From the Monkey Mountains’ in 1925. Although predating it by three years it is a more progressive work than the String Quartet No. 2Intimate Letters’ by his influential tutor Leoš Janáček. The title ‘From the Monkey Mountains’ is a term used rather dryly by Brno inhabitants to describe the popular tourist area of the Vysočina Region (Moravian Highlands) and its unsophisticated inhabitants. Each of the four movements has a descriptive title. The work is suffused with contrasting moods and unconventional sounds. Here the Adamas has decided to use the original version that includes a percussion part in the finale. Although all four movements are appealling I especially enjoyed the playing of the highly unusual yet captivating opening Andante. Titled ‘Landscape’ this is an evocative picture of the Moravian landscape. Of note also is the heady final movement ‘Wild Night’ marked Vivace e con fuoco - a clashing mix of sounds and moods complete with percussive effects. A recording of this score from the excellent Pavel Haas Quartet provides exceptionally strong competition (Supraphon, 2006, Prague).
The highly precocious Korngold achieved his peak early garnering an international triumph in 1920 aged only twenty-three with the opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). His String Quartet No. 2 was composed some thirteen years later in 1933 one of the works written whilst he was still living in Europe. It reminded me strongly of early Richard Strauss. Here it is confidently performed. I was struck by the appealing opening Allegro with its roguish high spirits. The oft-repeated four note fate motif from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is an interesting feature of the movement. In the Allegro com moto there’s a buoyant interplay of attractive themes inflected with Viennese character. The Finale is evocative of the idyllic world of the Viennese waltz which seems incongruous given the political turmoil that was taking place in Vienna at that time. In competing recordings of the String Quartet No. 2 this Adamas performance is a match for the splendidly played recording by the Doric (Chandos, 2010, Potton Hall). 

Haydn had an enduring affection for chamber music and his cycle of string quartets is a towering monument to his mastery. The celebrated String Quartet in D majorThe Lark’ from 1790 is one of a set of six written for Johann Tost. A violinist, Tost had played in the Esterházy court orchestra from 1783 to 1788. Haydn was sceptical about the business dealings of the entrepreneurial Tost who had left for Paris before returning to Vienna as a wine and drapery merchant. The D major Quartet received its nickname ‘The Lark’ owing to the prominent first violin’s soaring melody in the opening movement said to suggest the song of the lark. The Adamas here exude joy and charm. Marvellously played by the first violin of Claudia Schwarzl the soaring singing theme. Marked Andante cantabile the second movement almost grinds to a halt owing to the deathly slow tempo chosen by the Adamas. Opening with the texture of a rustic dance I relished the buoyant playing of the Menuetto: Allegretto with its distinctive courtly feel. The blistering pace of the virtuosic Finale: Vivace is splendidly controlled permitting a highly satisfying conclusion to a magnificent work. The Adamas can be suitably pleased with their playing of the ‘LarkQuartet a performance that I will certainly return to. Of the large number of recordings I have of this work the account I most admire is from the Aeolian Quartet recorded in the 1970s at St. John’s, Smith Square, London on Decca. I also relish the playing on the impressive 1989 release from the Hagen Quartet on Deutsche Grammophon. 

The Gramola engineers provide excellent sound - clean and direct with a good balance. The discerning Adamas delightfully mix assurance and youthful exuberance with fresh spontaneity.  

Michael Cookson  

Masterwork Index: Haydn string quartets