Wigmore Hall performance
"There’s a special pleasure in watching a seasoned string quartet at the top of their game. It’s the kind of enjoyment you might get from one of those close-up videos that show you exactly what’s happening inside a designer watch: beauty, precision, each part of the apparatus in lockstep with each other. The Czech group the Pavel Haas Quartet exude this seamlessness. Yet the paradox of their skill is that perfect empathy between the players is also the springboard for soloistic fantasy - particularly when it comes to the most headstrong member, the violinist Veronika Jaruskova.
We only heard half a quartet to begin with as Jaruskova and her violinist colleague Marek Zwiebel teamed up for Prokofiev’s Sonata in C. The sonata has gnarly surfaces, but as the players swapped the leading lines between them and made the most of their differences in timbre - Jaruskova more silvery, Zwiebel earthier - it felt almost like a deeply intimate chat, with us as local eavesdroppers. A much more familiar Prokofiev work, Romeo and Juliet, followed: a suite arranged by the quartet’s viola player Jiri Kabat. This also allowed the players to go their own way, sometimes in rather frantic directions as they tried to imitate Prokofiev’s thumping orchestration - a dress-up game that sounded faintly parodic when it came to the brutal Dance of the Knights. Confidence in execution just about overrode doubts about this remake.
The treasure of the evening came when the quartet were joined by the pianist Boris Giltburg, a darkly supple voice blending in as if he had been with the band for years. Shostakovich’s G minor Piano Quintet may just be the most perfect thing the composer wrote, marrying his stomach-churning symphonic energy with the structural lucidity and emotional concentration of the composer who hovers above the piece, JS Bach. The prelude was beautifully drawn, its counterpoint perfectly balanced. The sulphurous jig of the scherzo was thickly painted, grimacing theatre music, while the intermezzo unfolded with magical transparency. There’s a volte-face in the final movement to sudden levity, a shift in tone that the quartet managed here with the grace of a master conjuror."
The Times, 20th February 2020