Prazák Quartet

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The Prazák Quartet is famous for playing Czech chamber music, but its repertoire encompasses Classical, Romantic, and modern works.
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The Prazak Quartet is not only one of the leading string quartets from Czechoslovakia, but among the longest-lived from any country. Although most of the original membership is gone, all the current personnel has been in place since 1986, and two of the three replacements have served since the early or mid-'70s. Not surprisingly, the ensemble has shown a preference for Czech repertory, focusing particularly on Dvorák, Smetana, Janácek, and Martinu. But the group has also demonstrated an affinity for the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and other composers in the Germanic sphere. The repertory extends to the twentieth century as well, encompassing Zemlinski, Schoenberg, Berg, Schulhoff, and many others. The ensemble has made numerous recordings for a variety of labels, pirmarily on Praga, but including Harmonia Mundi, Supraphon, Orfeo, and Nuovo Era.

The Prazak Quartet was founded in 1972 by cellist Josef Prazák and violist Josef Kluson, the only current original member. All of the original members were Prague Conservatory students. The makeup of the group changed often in its early years: Vaclav Remes (first violinist) joined the ensemble in 1973; Vlastimil Holek (second violinist) became the next replacement, in 1976; and then in 1986 cellist Michal Kanka replaced Prazák.

The quartet's first competition victory came in 1974 when it was awarded first prize at the Prague Conservatory's prestigious Chamber Music Competition. The players captured another first prize at the 1978 Evian String Quartet Competition. By that time they had already established a reputation at home and in parts of Europe as one of the foremost Czech string quartets on the international scene.

The quartet's steady ascent throughout the 1980s and '90s owed much to its busy concert schedule in Europe and the United States and to the critical acclaim it regularly achieved for recordings. With the highly praised 1996 CD of Schubert quartets (Rosamunde and Death and the Maiden), the Prazak Quartet began recording exclusively for Praga. Since then the group has made over 20 recordings for that label, consistently drawing positive critical notice. Among later recordings is the 2006 CD of Brahms' String Quartet No. 3 and Piano Quintet, Op. 34. Important concerts include a March 2007 appearance at Carnegie Hall, where the group performed a typically mixed program: string quartets by Haydn (Op. 76/5) and Dvorák (No. 14, Op. 105), and Five Pieces for String Quartet by Schulhoff.

Decades of steady personnel ended in 2010, when Remes was forced to retire due to problems with his left hand. He was succeeded by Pavel Hula, formerly first violinist with the Kocian Quartet.