- Quintet for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major, D. 956 (Op. posth. 163)
- String Quartet No. 14 in D minor ("Death and the Maiden"), D. 810
The Pavel Haas Quartet, named for a Czech Jewish composer killed during the Holocaust, has emerged as a major new chamber-music voice in the Czech Republic, recording on the old Supraphon label that has so effectively reinvented itself for capitalist times. With this release of two of Schubert's major chamber pieces, it shows why it has ascended to the top of the string quartet heap: the quartet essays daring performances that push things to the edge of both of the musicians' virtuoso abilities and their capacity for interpretive control. The buyer looking for a performance of Schubert's "String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810 (Death and the Maiden)," has many choices, but this stirring reading merits the strongest consideration. The one objection that might be raised is that it is truly extreme; it maintains an unbroken series of sharp, almost violent attacks, largely without vibrato, throughout the first movements, giving the music real hair-trigger tension. It is almost too much, but not quite; instead it's a real thrill. The quartet can do more than just kick out the jams; the variations in the second movement, based on the song that gives the piece its nickname, have a beautiful lyrical and somewhat dark tone. The entire quartet is extremely compelling, and if the "String Quintet in C major, K. 956" (performed with cellist Danjulo Ishizaka) is slightly less so, it's still miles beyond the common run of performances of the work. The discursive, slightly loose structure of the massive opening movement, rambling in an almost Mahler-esque way through monumental utterances and country dances, fits this very intense ensemble's personality a bit less well than does the "Death and the Maiden" quartet, but there is still impressive playing and an uncanny sense of headlong but controlled forward motion. The obvious next place to go for this group is Beethoven, perhaps specifically the furiously compact utterances of the "String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95," and one awaits further developments with genuine excitement.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Unbelievable, amazing Schubert! The Pavel Haas Quartet has steadily been garnering stellar review after stellar review, and this disc is a perfect example of why. The CD contains performances of Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D.810”, and String Quintet in C Major, D.956”, and the first thing I thought was, “Do I *really* need another recording of Death and the Maiden, as well as the C Major String Quintet?” I already have several recordings of each that I love, but since I will have the opportunity to see the Pavel Haas Quartet in several months I thought I would see what all the fuss was about. And now I understand. This ensemble is unbelievable! Hands down, this is the best recording of Death and the Maiden that I have ever heard. The members of the quartet work together as if they are a single unit, each instrument seamlessly blending and interacting with the others across the full dynamic range of their instruments. This very familiar music is very much alive when this group plays it, and it is difficult to do anything else while listening to this performance as it is just captivating and this listener wanted to inhale every note and nuance. Yes, it’s that good. The String Quintet in C Major is similarly spectacular, and Danjulo Ishizaka’s cello behaves as though it is an extension of the ensemble, matching their intensity, dynamics, emotionalism, and virtuosity. While the music sounds relatively simple to play, it is in fact fiendishly difficult, and these artists do it with aplomb and delicacy. The fourth movement (Allegretto) is just a treat for this Schubert lover’s ear and heart. It is just a flat-out amazing performance. I see myself going on a Pavel Haas Quartet buying spree if their other recordings are as good as this one. Buy it, borrow it, but whatever you do sit in a quiet room without distractions and just *listen*. Very highly recommended.