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Britten, Shostakovich & Dvorák

Britten Three Divertimenti for String Quartet
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 10 in A flat Op. 118
Dvorák String Quartet No 13 in G Op. 106

Pavel Haas Quartet

Veronika Jaruskova & Eva Karova – Violins
Pavel Nikl – Viola
Peter Jarusek – Violoncello

Wigmore Hall 27 April 2010

The standard of today's string quartets never fails to amaze. This year we have been bowled over by the Arcantos, Dorics, Meta4 - to name but a few. The Pavel Haas, formed by violinist Veronika and her cellist husband Peter, is right up at the top with the best (Milan Skampa had advised them that "a quartet is the most beautiful prison in the music world").

Tonight's was a brilliantly conceived programme. The Britten Divertimenti (1936) are small marvels from his younger days and will likely have been new to most of the audience; piquant and witty, they were thrown off with such flair and finesse that the reception was electrifying and set the pattern for the evening.

Shostakovich No 10 is one of his less often heard, and the Pavel Haas emphasised the contrasts between its deceptively gentle beginning and the next movement's furioso, with both violins playing in unison with shattering force. Eva Karova seemed somehow to mediate the ensemble, but without dominating her less demonstrative founder/leader, her close rapport with colleagues (none of their eyes glued to the scores) noticeable. All four attracted attention individually but too as a purposeful and dedicated foursome.

Dvorak's G major quartet, his first completed after returning from New York to his homeland, is a major, expansive work, and made a fitting climax to a remarkable evening. The subtleties of voicing and extreme dynamics made one feel that the multifarious colours available in an orchestra would have had nothing to offer over these four not-so-modest strings. To prepare us to return to the world outside, a Dvorak waltz was the perfect encore.

This was another well-packed concert to reinforce the belief of many Wigmore Hall afficionados that, in these cash-strapped recessional days with more arts cuts likely ahead, chamber music has the most to offer.

Our only regret is that rail maintenance closures and road closures for the London Marathon had made it impossible to attend the Pavel Haas' Coffee Concert on Sunday; we won't miss their next visit and meanwhile hope to catch up with their Prokofiev CD...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Dvorak Op 96 & 106