The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: A bold account of Haydn’s Passiontide meditation
Musicians: Pražák Quartet
Composer: Haydn

In the dignified introductory Adagio the members of the Pražák Quartet establish with due gravitas the devotional context of Haydn’s unique musical commentary on the spoken drama of Christ’s last hours. They respond vividly to the dramatic changes of character and mood in each of the ensuing seven closely integrated ‘sonatas’ with a wide range of expression, intensifying the fundamental darkness of Haydn’s minor-key passages with magical contrasts in the major mode, especially in the Second Sonata. They seem to relish the more relaxed lyricism of the first two sonatas and they characterise no.4, the meditation on ‘Mulier, ecce filius tuus’, with sensitivity and tenderness.

The Fifth Sonata (‘Sitio’) brings pictorial musical effect and further variety of texture and approach, the delicate character of its opening contrasted by accented playing signifying pain and anguish. The Sixth (‘Consummatum est’) conveys similar expressive contrasts, and the substantially calm atmosphere of the Seventh (‘In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum’) is broken by a final musical earthquake (‘Il terremoto’) of violent elemental power.

The Pražák’s characterisation is bold and decisive, its sound and blend are carefully integrated and the players display a striking homogeneity of approach throughout. The recording is first-rate, vividly present yet naturally balanced.