This couldn’t be better.
Andrew McGregor 2006
‘Intimate Letters’ is Janacek’s last completed work, an ecstatic outpouring of emotion from a man in his 80s filled with passion for Kamila Stösslova, a woman 37 years younger than him, who was Janacek’s muse for the last decade of his life.
‘Intimate Letters’ whirls us from their first fateful meeting, through blissful dedication, to a rocking lullaby for a child (desperately poignant given the loss of Janacek’s own children), and a final glorious explosion of trills and triumph over death.
It’s a seriously challenging work for any quartet, and there’ve been some fine recordings, especially from the Czech Quartet tradition which the Pavel Haas Quartet comes from. Yet these young players stamp their authority on the piece with a technical precision and a searing immediacy that’s rarely if ever been equalled.
Pavel Haas was a pupil of Janacek, who died in Auschwitz in 1944, and his second quartet ‘From the Monkey Mountains’ is an inspired choice of coupling. The Monkey Mountains is the local nickname for part of the Czech highlands near Brno, and these could easily be reminiscences of times spent there at leisure: an evocative opening landscape, an amusingly accurate representation of a creaking coach and horses in the second movement, then a beautifully lyrical nocturne, gazing into a moonlit sky, before a wild dance medley with the added surprise of an added percussionist.
You’d be disappointed if the quartet that named itself after the composer couldn’t make it a special recording, and it has. Great performances, an imaginative programme, and a superb recording as well. This couldn’t be better.