Joseph Haydn: String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 33, No. 2 "The Joke"
Antonín Dvořák: String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor, B. 19
String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor, B. 19: String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13
This might have been an evening of great classics if Dvořák at age 29 had not launched into experiments with period trends. From the first movement, his String Quartet No. 4 in E Minor is filled with emotionally passionate music that seems to follow in detail the composer’s excited state of mind and to be an outgrowth of the music of his Neo-Romantic predecessors like Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt. “Oh well, young people”, the water goblin from the opera Rusalka might sigh, just as he did about the frolicking wood sprites. Of course, Dvořák’s Fourth Quartet is not juvenilia. Above all, it shows that Dvořák was already able to handle musical material superbly, and that gave him the freedom to seek and define his own personal style. The manuscript was discovered in the estate of Antonín Bennewitz, and thanks to the Dvořák Collection, the Chamber Series, and the performance by the Bennewitz Quartet, the work shall again be connected with the name of the violinist and director of the Prague Conservatory.
In Dvořák’s music, the classical foundations usually shine through, and we are reminded of those foundations in their pure form by the String Quartet in E-flat Major by Joseph Haydn – its comical conclusion is one of the proofs that humour exists in music. Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy then contributes a truly youthful yet stylish work. He wrote his String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor at 18 years of age.
The Bennewitz Quartet is one of the top international chamber ensembles, a status confirmed not only by their victories in two prestigious competitions – Osaka in 2005 and Prémio Paolo Borciani, Italy in 2008, but also by the acclaim of the critics. As early as 2006, the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote: "... the music was remarkable not just for its clarity of structure, but for the beautiful tonal palette and purity of intonation in its execution. Only very rarely does one experience such skillfully crafted and powerful harmonies... Great art." The ensemble has received various awards on the Czech music scene as well. In 2004 the quartet was awarded The Prize of the Czech Chamber Music Society and in 2019 the four musicians won the Classic Prague Award for the Best Chamber Music Performance of the year.
The quartet currently performs at major venues both in the Czech Republic and abroad (Wigmore Hall London, Musikverein Wien, Konzerthaus Berlin, Théâtre des Champs-Elysées Paris, The Frick Collection New York, Seoul Art Center, Rudolfinum and others), and is regularly invited to festivals such as the Salzburger Festspiele, Luzerne Festival, Rheingau Musik Festival, Kammermusikfest Lockenhaus, and the Prague Spring. The group has had the privilege of working with the outstanding artists: Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Alexander Melnikov, Vadim Gluzman, Isabel Charisius, Pietro de Maria, Reto Bieri, Danjulo Ishizaka and others.
The Bennewitz Quartet especially enjoys playing and performing on the Czech domestic music scene. Particular highlights have included their cooperation with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and its conductor Jiří Bělohlávek for a performance of Bohuslav Martinů’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra. The group has made a recording of both quartets by Leoš Janáček for Czech Television in the unique space of Villa Tugendhat in Brno. The Czech Radio regularly records major concerts of the quartet.
The fruits of their long-term cooperation with the Coviello Classics label include a recording of Leoš Janáček’s two string quartets and Béla Bartók’s fourth. The critics’ response was very positive. The magazine Fono Forum was impressed by the "fiery temperament". The second recording in the series, released in spring 2010, contains both of Bedřich Smetana’s quartets. The website Klassik.com called it "simply phenomenal". Their next project was the recording of Antonín Dvořák’s complete Cypresses cycle, on the Hänssler Classic label, followed by the recording of quartets op.51 and op.106 on the SWR music label. At present the quartet is working on the edition of a new CD with string quartets by Joseph Haydn.
The members of the quartet put a lot of stress on the inspiring and sometimes challenging choice of their concert repertoire. In 2012 and 2015, the ensemble performed in a sole evening the complete of Bartók’s six string quartets in Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and in Swedish Uppsala. In 2014, the four presented a premiere of The Songs of Immigrants by Slavomír Hořínka in Konzerthaus Berlin. In 2019 the quartet added a new CD in its discography featuring the music of the persecuted Jewish composers H. Krása, V. Ullmann, E. Schulhoff and P. Haas on the Supraphon label.
In the 2021/22 season the Bennewitz Quartet will return to Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Liederhalle Stuttgart, Rudolfinum Prague and many other stages. It will reappear at the Schwetzinger Festspiele, Music and Beyond Ottawa and will again tour in the USA. The quartet will take part in the Dvořák’s integral string quartet performance within the Dvořák’s Prague Festival 2022.
Since 1998 the quartet bears the name of the violinist and director of a music conservatory in Prague, Antonín Bennewitz (1833-1926) who contributed greatly to the establishment of the Czech violin school. The most significant musicians who count among his disciples are Otakar Ševčík and František Ondříček and above all Karel Hoffman, Josef Suk and Oskar Nedbal who, under Bennewitz’s influence, formed the famous Bohemian Quartet.
Source: Bennewitzovo kvarteto
At the present location of the Church of Sts Simon and Jude and of the Nemocnice Na Františku (St Francis Hospital), Bohuslav of Olbramovice established an infirmary before 1354, an essential part of which was the Chapel of St Simon and St Jude, preachers of the Gospel in Mesopotamia and Syria, which was consecrated by Arnošt of Pardubice (Ernst von Pardubitz), the Archbishop of Prague, who worked closely with Emperor Charles IV. The chapel was gradually renovated and expanded, and the changes made to it by non-Catholic churches shortly before 1620 were so grandiose and pioneering that the site had the ambition of becoming a serious ideological and architectural competitor with the St Vitus Cathedral. Thereafter, further renovations and additions continued for a long time, the interior was lavishly decorated, an altar was built, sculptures were installed, and the crowning glory was an altar painting in the presbytery completed in 1773 by Josef Hager. Between 1989 and 1993, the City of Prague supported extensive renovations converting the church into a concert hall, and the building was handed over to the administration of the Prague Symphony Orchestra. In 2020 the City of Prague bought the building, and in 2021 it was entrusted to the Prague Symphony Orchestra, which uses the venue as a hall for its subscription chamber music concerts.
The original church was part of the Na Františku Hospital and Monastery of the Brothers of Mercy. In the 18th century it was renovated in the High Baroque style, and an organ was installed there, which was later by such masters as W. A. Mozart and Joseph Haydn. That organ is still in use today.