The Friends of
Chamber Music

Prazák Quartet

Venue: The Vancouver Playhouse
Date: 19 November 2002, 20.00

1st Violinist: Vaclav Remes 2nd Violinist: Vlastimil Holek Cellist: Michal Kanka Violist: Josef Kluson

Hadyn: String Quartet in A Major, Op. 16 no. 6, "Sun" Janacek: String Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters" Schubert: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 29, D. 804

Reviewer: JH Stape

What a concert programme and what a bravura performance! Ranging from the graceful high classicism of Haydn, to Janacek's brash modernity, to the choclate-gooey romanticism of Schubert, this concert, the third in the Friends of Chamber Music 2002-03 season, will doubtless long linger in memory as offering dazzling variety, easily overcome technical challenges, and consummate musicianship of the first order. The hail of bravos that closed the evening was a reprise of the euphoria stirred by the The Prazák Quartet's utterly spellbinding account of Janacek's "String Quartet No.2." The near-capacity audience knew that they were hearing a group on perfect form: the Quartet's dark, port-wine sound flowed generously as extremely nuanced playing bore witness to a distinguished Mitteleuropa tradition maintained, carried forward, and clearly thriving.

Hadyn's "String Quartet in A Major, Op. 16 no. 6" is nothing less, nor more, than good temper set to music, and the balance of forces set into motion being redolent of old harmonies long undisturbed and self-confident. The opening movement's jokiness is undoubtedly Teutonic in character. This mercifully gave way to a less straight-laced, toe-tapping minuet played with control and con brio. The lively fugual finale received a stylish and polished reading.

Whether so much geniality was a proper introduction to Janacek's "Intimate Letters" Quartet (1928), written very shortly before his death, is a moot point, but this astonishing piece of rhythmic complexity and singular virtuoso demands was the evening's highlight. The Quartet produced a "large" sound, bringing to this intensely introspective, sometimes moody, work something surpassing idiomatic control that must simply be called "authority."

The various moods--the exuberant, the meditative, the lyrical--and the nervous energy demanded throughout conclude in a high-energy allegro glowing with passion. The Quartet played as though they were one man, handling the shifting, conflicting moods with skill and conviction. The manic fingering demanded of the presto testified not only to thorough masteryof an individual work but also of a whole repertoire.

After this vivid and impressive performance, the Schubert String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 29, could but come as an anti-climax, the Quartet negotiating its serenity and vulnerability with supreme confidence and sincerity, and giving a finely detailed account of a soundscape that was at once intricate and familiar. If one might wish the soulful andante not a single bar longer, the piece gained in interest by the singularly adventurous agility of its decidedly serious, even tight-lipped Menuetto, in vivid contrast with the final movement's charmingly playful, even impish, character, which again brought down the house.

The encore as a concert tradition has oft, rightly enough, been lamented as a display of mere technical razzle-dazzle, but on this occasion with the Quartet thanked the audience for its attentive responsiveness by a brilliantly musical rendition of the final movement of Dvorak's "American" String Quartet in F major, Op. 96.

One can only hope that the Friends of Chamber Music will invite the Prazák Quarter back to Vancouver--and soon.

© 2002, JH Stape