CAMBRIDGE — One of the more ear-catching chamber music releases of the year has been a lush, zesty recording of the Smetana Quartets by the young Prague-based Pavel Haas Quartet. And it is only the latest of several fine discs the group has made for the Czech label Supraphon.
So anticipation was high for the group’s sold-out Thursday night local debut at Longy’s Pickman Hall, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. For the occasion the ensemble offered a mostly Czech program that included works by Martinu and Dvorak.
That music seemed a natural fit, but it was unfortunate that the group kept its own namesake composer, Pavel Haas, off the roster for this introductory program, choosing instead to conclude the night with a Beethoven “Razumovsky” Quartet (Op. 59, No. 2). This is a masterwork of course, but it’s also a piece played by every quartet under the sun. And how often does one have the chance to hear the music of Haas (1899-1944) played by interpreters who have made his quartets a specialty?
What was offered however made a favorable impression, especially the group’s curtain-raising performance of Martinu’s Third Quartet. Written in 1929 after Martinu had studied in interwar Paris, it’s a taut, compelling piece that combines an earthy Czech atmosphere, melodies that tip a hat to Debussy, and imaginative textures, beginning with its eerie opening bars outlined with a halting rhythmic figure played by the viola “col legno” (with the wooden stick of the bow). On Thursday, the ensemble’s confident, resourceful playing evinced a deep feel for this music’s unique sound world and its rhythmic drive. The hurtling finale was a gripping, turbocharged ride through the Czech countryside.
Dvorak’s Quartet No. 9 (Op. 34) followed in a reading notable for its fluid, dark-toned lyricism. First violinist Veronika Jaruskova conjured an appealingly veiled tone in the first movement, and the group once again displayed an easy feel for the music’s dramatic pacing and atmosphere, though the slow movement was also marred by occasional tuning issues.
In the Beethoven, the group’s vigorous and intensely committed approach compensated for a slight looseness of ensemble playing. Other quartets place a higher premium on the fine details of sonic blend, matching vibratos, bow speeds, and the like. But the electric current behind the Haas’s account was unmistakable, to the evident delight of the audience gathered in Pickman Hall.
PAVEL HAAS QUARTET
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At: Pickman Hall, Thursday