JANÁČEK; HAAS String Quartets No 2
The catalogue is not short of recommendable versions of Janácek’s Intimate Letters Quartet. But there are any number of ways of bringing its hyper-passionate declarations off the page, and this young Czech quartet have plenty of ideas of their own about that. Once or twice that leads them into an over-calculated delivery. But try the third movement at 2'58" where, having fined the texture down to a whisper, Janácek gives the first violin an electrifying outburst; if that contrast has been made more emotionally real on record it is certainly not so on the half-dozen LPs and CDs I picked off my shelves. The very fine recent Talich Quartet version (Calliope, 6/06) does not even run the Pavel Haas Quartet close. I would almost be inclined to recommend the new disc for this moment alone.
But then there is the 1925 Second Quartet by the composer whose name the players have adopted. This is the kind of piece that may make you wonder why you haven’t heard it before. After a first movement that tellingly redeploys a number of patent Janácekisms, Haas slips into the grotesque humour of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for String Quartet and once again fashions a structure that transcends reliance on its model. In the finale whackiness goes a step further, with a rollicking jazz-folk fusion, brilliantly caught here together with the original drum-kit accompaniment that Haas suppressed following adverse criticism at the premiere. Anyone who snapped up the Hawthorne Quartet’s excellent recording in Decca’s Entartete Musik series (3/94 – nla) will need no telling. On the other hand, anyone who chanced on the Kocian Quartet’s patchy, ill-tuned account (Praga Digitals) may wonder what all the fuss is about. So the PHQ’s streamlined but full-blooded playing is more than welcome, and if they are lining up the first Janácek and the first and third Haas for a follow-up CD, I will be at the front of the queue to hear it. Superb recording quality too.