Takacs Quartet, Works by Mozart, Bartok and Beethoven, Playhouse, December 1, 2013

Photo: Richard Houghton

Photo: Richard Houghton

Having written a number of reviews of this wonderful ensemble in the past, I always wonder if another review can add anything.  Yet, after this concert, I was impelled yet to write something more.  The Takacs Quartet has returned to our Friends of Chamber Music on a yearly basis for 30 years now, playing so much of the important quartet repertory over this time.  Yet such is their devotion to the spirit of the music and such is their own voyage of discovery, each concert still seems like a new experience. What is the Takacs’ secret?  First, they seem to keep on re-thinking what they have done in the past.  They also explore new works, such as the three quartets of Benjamin Britten that they have played for us recently.  But I think, most important, is that the Takacs are always acutely aware of the organic growth of any work they play, being able to vary the intensity of their playing to expose the real intellectual and emotional core of a work as it progresses. This is why they can seemingly ‘lay back’ in the early part of a work but always know just when to increase dramatic tension to bring the musical argument home in a strong and emotionally-fulfilling way.    

A clear case in point is the Mozart ‘Hunt’ Quartet that opened this concert.  Mozart is in fact one composer the Takacs have not played that frequently or recorded, so this was something different for us.  In the first two movements, I really did not think that much was going on, except to note that the opening movement stressed rhythmic punctuations and accents more than most accounts -- more like Haydn.   Then, the Adagio took us slowly to a much deeper world, the radiance and feeling of the playing eventually being as powerful as that found in the reaches of Mozart’s later string quintets or the slow movements of Haydn’s profound Op.76 quartets.  The feeling of the work was transformed   Of course, this is one of the six quartets that Mozart dedicated to Haydn.  But after this movement had finished, I certainly had a much fuller appreciation of what is meant by the designation ‘Haydn Quartets’.  The finale introduced just the right dramatic contrast: full of sparkle and momentum, bringing the work home with joy.  A wonderful performance! 

It is quite a move from Mozart to Bartok but one certainly recalls the superlative set of Bartok’s complete quartets that the Takacs recorded fifteen years ago, full of humanity and authentic Hungarian fire (Decca 455297(2)).  The performance of this composer’s often-lyrical second quartet that we saw on this occasion may have been somewhat more refined but, I think, was equally stunning in revealing the ensemble’s ability to see the work’s structure as a whole.  Here the control of line and texture was remarkable, so much so that the more aggressive contrasts of the second movement, while full of intensity, still seemed to be part of the natural movement of the work, rather than sounding jarringly different.  The quiet closing Lento offered playing of great inward beauty, the dynamic and textural shadings always leading the work onwards to its eventual still.  

One also remembers the Takacs’ equally-praised recording of Beethoven’s Late Quartets that appeared in 2005 (Decca 4708492(3)).  The Takacs gave us the A-minor String Quartet, Op. 132 to end the concert.  Interestingly, I found this performance both more transparent and more integrated than previously, bringing all the complex melodic fragments of the initial allegros together with greater ease and fluency.   So ably was this done that there was an almost ‘kaleidoscopic’ feel to the exposition, so many fragments coming together at once.  As always, the ensemble found the spiritual core of the work in the prayer-like slow movement where a fragile, but all-consuming, beauty increasingly flowed from the playing and crowned the work.  

Simply put, it would be difficult to find chamber music experiences better than this.  Perhaps the only other comparable concert that comes to mind is the concert of Haydn, Brahms, and Britten that the Takacs Quartet gave us last year! 


© Geoffrey Newman 2013


Takacs Quartet play Beethoven