|Prazak plays spirited recital
By Douglass Dowty
The Prazak Quartet exhibited the best in refined, European playing while avoiding
uncomfortable, Old-World stuffiness in an Artist Recital Series performance last Tuesday in Finney
Chapel. The concert featured late, mature quartets by Schubert and Leos Janacek and a conservative
work by Beethoven.
The Prazak Quartet, founded in 1972, has kept its youthful charisma while continuing to develop
its mature sound. The rich variety of timbres and tones exhibited throughout was quite remarkable,
especially in sections in which contrasting colors were played by different instruments at the
This juxtaposition of sound was readily apparent in the Janacek work, Intimate Letters, written
when Janacek was 63 for Kamila Stosslova, a woman over 40 years younger than he. In addition to
the composition, over 700 letters to her have been recovered. Janaceks late-life boom in
output is often connected to his unrequited love.
The four-movement work has an uncommon passion that suited the Prazak Quartet to perfection. While
some listeners may have been unappreciative of the modern Eastern European melodies and harmonies,
the engrossing, dynamic playing of the quartet allowed the listener to see beyond these cultural
preferences into the depth of the music.
The fast passages in the last movement, even in purely supporting sections, were crisp and untroubled,
and the dynamics were never raised to highlight technical difficulties.
Preceding Janacek, the program opened with a late Schubert quartet, Op. 29 in A minor. This piece
made great use of coloring to differentiate the soaring first violin melody over a mood-driven
but never plodding bass line. Though always perfectly in sync, the sound production was such that
the melodic fragments always rang clearly, unhindered by the accompaniment. The interpretation
was quite Romantic and free, but also controlled and well thought out in advance.
The program ended with a Beethoven Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1. One of Beethovens
mid-life quartets, this piece was firmly in the Romantic style but did not include the experimental
harmonies that Beethoven used in his later works.
The sheer magnitude of this quartet was enhanced by the somewhat heavy-handed performance, though
the interpretation never lacked for energy or spark. While many play these Beethoven quartets as
sort of a halfway point stylistically from Mozart to Brahms, Prazak adapted the work into their
own, unique style. Like all good Beethoven, the dynamics and phrasings were clear and often exaggerated
for effect. Prazak seemed especially keen on differentiating between various sonorities and moods.
At times this effect made the work seem more vertical instead of flowing naturally in a line.
That said, the rendition was never boring, and the highlight on bringing out harmonies encouraged
the listener to pay attention. The music was never one-dimensional or simplified.
The infamous Beethoven prolonged ending was handled very well by the quartet, seemingly giving
drive to each half cadence, even though it was obvious the ending was still quite a ways away.
From beginning to end, this performance never lacked vigor. Considering how much energy the players
expended performing three complex works with little break, the consistentency was a feat in itself,
as well as the tight playing that marks the basis for any great ensemble.
In a tribute to their homeland, the quartet played the Polka from Bedrich Smetanas
String Quartet No. 2 in d minor as an encore.