The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Pavel Haas Quartet
Composer: Prokofiev

Considering their high quality, it is surprising how relatively few couplings of Prokofiev’s two string quartets have emerged on disc. If neo-Classical precision is a priority the Emerson Quartet (available as a download from Deutsche Grammophon) remains top choice, while the Coull Quartet is both more warmly expressive and beautifully engineered (Hyperion). The music’s innate Russianness is vividly captured by the St Petersburg Quartet (Delos), although for a hint of rapier cut-and-thrust that never allows the music to truly settle, the Chilingirian Quartet (Chandos) remains essential listening.    

Enter the Pavel Haas Quartet, which gets Prokofiev’s emotional duality across with an exemplary sureness of touch. Technically speaking the players are virtually in a class of their own, and their musical responses are no less acute. They capture the folksong-inflected, Petrushka-like drive of the Second Quartet’s finale with scintillating aplomb, negotiating its dizzying array of scintillating textures and dynamic inflections with razor-sharp wit. Yet when the music turns introspective, as in the First Quartet’s haunting Andante molto section, they sound no less captivated by the music’s haunting malleability. In the double violin sonata, Veronika Jar?šková and Eva Karová play with a virtuosity and imagination to rival even Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman (EMI) and the recording is most truthfully balanced.