Friends of Chamber Music

Takács Quartet

Beethoven Quartet in D major, Op. 18 No. 3; Quartet in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2; Quartet in E flat major, Op. 127

Violin Edward Dusinberre Violin Károly Schrantz Viola Geraldine Walter Cello András Féjer

Date 14 March 2006, 8 pm Venue Queen Elizabeth Playhouse Reviewer JH Stape

A concert by the Takács Quartet, a regular in the Friends of Chamber Music series, is always something special: known for its fine tone, sparkling musicianship, and interpretive depth, the Quartet's element of surprise can only be its choice of programme.

This all-Beethoven concert even surpassed the high expectations one has of this ensemble, being one of those events that will linger long in the memory. The playing of this great music, this very great music, was simply flawless: as ever technical wizardry delivered the customary polished and elegant sound, but the interpretive exploration was on a level -- and the word is not used lightly -- of coruscating genius.

The capacity audience, spellbound and captivated, was in effect at a seminar on Beethoven style, the programme chosen to illuminate the composer's early, middle, and late periods, ranging from the sunny Opus 18 of 1806 to Opus 127, written when the composer, deaf and in the last years of his life, was pressingly aware of mortality. Music of drama and emotional complexity, the sixteen Beethoven quartets are so original and inventive that they, as he realized, were being written not for his own age but for later ones.

The undeniable charm of Quartet in D major, Op. 18 No. 3 lies partly in its vibrant Mozartean gestures, which are then laid aside for a daring expansiveness. Sprightly sunny material is dropped for more serious ideas, slowly expanding. These were given a delicate and nuanced rendering by the Takács on the very top of its form. The third movement Allegro was superlatively realized, the playing detailed and committed, ruthlessly precise but never merely academic. The leaping Presto, a sustained burst of energy, blazed with dynamism and conviction.

One of the three Rasumovsky quartets, Opus 59 No. 2 is Beethoven at his most Beethovinian -- large-scale passion, intense conflict, and infinite tenderness are explored in turns by cascades of sound or the most delicate pianissimi. The Adagio movement, a lyrical statement of supreme beauty, was heartrendingly played: meticulous and mellow, soulful and singing, the sound brought tears to the eyes of several. By way of vivid contrast, the energetic Allegretto dashes the intensity of mood, is agitated and chirpy as rapid, bright flashes rise and fade as a prelude to a sometimes rambunctious Presto that demands cruelly fast fiddling. If one had to pick a highlight from this magical evening, this quartet would be it.

Opus 127 has grandeur and almost aggressive beauty, a graceful happiness and robust joviality that collides with tenderness. A work of shifting moods and tempi it has inexhaustible depths, the Takács mining them again and again for a performance that was spellbinding. Fine balance, absolute precision, and a cooperation that only comes after years of playing were all in evidence.

One came away from this concert with the conviction that in the world of chamber music the Takács has no rivals. As the bravi rang out and the audience stood up to thank them, their smiles suggested, as well they might, satisfaction with an evening of great music-making.

© 2006 JH Stape