At the beginning of this year, BBC Music Magazine ranked the Pavel Haas Quartet among the ten greatest string quartets of all time, alongside ensembles of such renown as the Alban Berg Quartet, the Amadeus Quartet and the Borodin Quartet. With six Gramophone Awards, two BBC Music Magazine Awards and a Diapason d’Or de l’Année to their name, this year the PHQ are celebrating their 20th anniversary. This May, Supraphon released their ninth album. The eagerly awaited recording features Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, and String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111. As in the case of the CD containing Antonín Dvořák’s quintets, which has received a Gramophone Chamber Award, the PAVEL HAAS QUARTET invited special guests – the pianist BORIS GILTBURG and the violist PAVEL NIKL, a former member of the ensemble. We talked with the musicians about the new album.
Can Brahms’s and Dvořák’s quintets be compared?
Peter Jarůšek: Comparing them is quite difficult, but I will try to give a simple answer. In terms of performance, both composers’ quintets are immensely challenging. It is not easy to attain a natural sound and to comply with all the details of the score, so you have to give the matter a lot of thought. When it comes to Dvořák, I myself feel at home, and we let ourselves be led by the music. As regards Brahms’s quintets, you have to “sweat it out”, they are more exacting. You acutely sense the Wertherian sorrow.
Pavel Nikl: The two composers are truly singular, and I deem our decision to make “sister” albums a very good one. Brahms’s pieces are highly elaborate and more complex, particularly with regard to the structure of the notation. Sometimes it is quite hard to pinpoint that which is really essential, as everything in the score seems to be of great significance. Yet if you succeed in doing so, and I hope we have succeeded, Brahms’s quintets come across as very well-arranged, occasionally monumental even. On the other hand, Dvořák’s “lightness” and nimble inventiveness is disarming indeed. By and large, Dvořák’s music is closer to the Czech heart, so we don’t have to make that much effort to take our bearings in the structure of his score. Yet I find combining the two composers’ music a very good idea, since they supplement each other so splendidly.
Boris, how do you perceive Brahms’s Quintet in F minor?
Brahms’s piano quintet was one of the very first chamber pieces I performed. I fell in love with it upon the first listen, and I have been fond of the piece ever since. During the preparations for the recording with the Pavel Haas Quartet, I discovered a lot of details I hadn’t been aware of previously. It was as though l was hearing the quintet totally anew. And this came about due to the Pavel Haas Quartet’s art. Owing to their approach, filled with a great love of music, their absolute respect for the score – regarding the notes and the overall spirit of the piece. Being in the studio and recording with them seemed absolutely natural, like a smooth continuation of our joint endeavours to come to know the Brahms quintet’s musical universe.
Veronika, do the Pavel Haas Quartet still regard Boris Giltburg and Pavel Nikl as guests?
We definitely don’t consider Pavel a guest, he is like our brother coming home. And when it comes to Boris, we have had an exceptional relationship over the long term. Our collaboration actually grows more profound year by year. It’s a great pleasure to work with him.
Boris, what do you treasure most about working with the Pavel Haas Quartet?
In addition to being extraordinary musicians, they are my best musical friends. When playing with them, I feel their enormous enthusiasm and engagement. We share an interest in and love of music, as well as the great joy of simply being together. Performing chamber music involves intimate cooperation, and finding the right musical partner is similar to finding the right life partner. If I had to mention a few aspects of our collaboration, I would highlight the unique level of attention paid to detail at every single rehearsal. Nothing is left to chance, and it may well be that we are never definitively satisfied with anything. We meticulously mull everything and there is always a clear reason why we perform something the way we do. And when we are on the stage, we convey to the audience our immense excitement arising from creating live music! Such moments, when I perform with the Pavel Haas Quartet at a concert hall, are indeed among the apices of my musical life.
Pavel, what does returning to the Pavel Haas Quartet mean to you?
Although life circumstances made me give up my role as a permanent member, I have never actually left the quartet completely. Whenever possible, we have continued to work together. Our friendship and wonderful collaboration always evokes the feeling that I am coming home ... All our reunions are about musical and human understanding, and joint discovery of beauty in music.
Could you reveal what would you like to record next?
Peter Jarůšek: Everyone has been asking this question recently. We don’t want to speak too soon, but I can say that we would like to focus on Bohuslav Martinů’s music.