Chamber music today just doesn’t get any better than the combination of the Pavel Haas Quartet and pianist Boris Giltburg. Under the title 3 into 5, their performances of two works by Dvořák this weekend, recorded in Prague, the heart of the composer’s homeland, could not have been better. Founded by first violinist, Veronika Jarůšková in 2002, the quartet is named after the Moravian composer killed during the Holocaust. The event was streamed as part of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival’s virtual program. The Piano Trio no. 3 in F minor, followed by the beloved Piano Quintet no. 2 in A major, erupted with intense but balanced feeling, gripping emotion contained in impeccable form.

Pavel Haas Quartet
© Boris Giltburg

The concert venue was Lichtenstein Palace’s Martinů Hall, a modern stage flooded with natural light. As the program began with astonishing verve, the remarkable synergy between Giltburg, Jarůšková and cellist Peter Jarůšék became immediately apparent. One of the most difficult tasks in performing chamber music is to convey deep feeling while retaining structure and clarity. At the other extreme, too much form and precision with insufficient fervor can lead to monotony. Everything in chamber music is stripped to the bone. A violinist cannot depend on other string players to pick up the slack. As the music is naked, so are the depths of feeling and intelligence behind every note, chord and phrase.

The trio is composed of four movements, beginning with a stormy F minor opening and concluding with a tumultuous Allegro con brio. The musical lines from the three instruments blended with precision and grace, Jarůšková’s violin tone brilliant and supple, her musical partner (and real-life husband) Jarůšék producing a lyrical tone, so sweet in the third movement’s Adagio, in perfect synchronicity with the others. Despite a breathtaking display of piano pyrotechnics early in the opening movement, Giltburg was neither accompanist nor featured soloist, but a full partner in an integrated experience vividly exploring – through music – the pain, yearning and hope that is human life.

The second work on the program was the A major piano quintet, one of the great works in that form in the Western canon. The interplay of musical ideas and their corresponding expression pervades every section of this enchanting piece. Second violinist Marek Zwiebel and violist Luosha Fang added depth and some delicious solo passages of their own which enriched the sound. What can compare with the interplay of the viola with its creamy tone and the piano providing a bright, ringing contrast in percussive texture, early in the second movement? It’s no surprise that a recording of this work, by the Quartet and Giltburg, received a Gramophone Award in 2018.

Though most streaming concerts can be viewed again, I seldom listen to the same concert a second or third time. But this was just too good to pass up, offering a great chamber music experience, at the end of one of music’s most challenging years.


 This performance was reviewed from the West Cork Chamber Festival video stream