Takács Quartet

Date and Venue Tuesday, 11 March 2008 @ 8pm | The Vancouver Playhouse

Brahms String Quartet No. 3 in B flat, Op. 67 Shostakovich Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 11 Beethoven String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 130 with Op. 133 (Grosse Fuge)

First Violin Edward Dusinberre Second Violin Károly Schranz Viola Roger Tapping Cello András Fejér

Reviewer J H Stape

Established nearly thirty years ago, the Takács Quartet offers both authoritative and vigorous playing, intense in a traditionally alte Europaischer fashion. Its long residence in the US has no doubt also allowed it to maintain a robust youthfulness. The performing skills on show thus have the strengths of well-aged, lovingly produced wine: there is a bright, young finish on top, while smoky depths lurk below.

A regular in the Friends of Chamber Music series, the Takács is always something special: known for its fine tone, sparkling musicianship, and interpretive subtlety, the element of surprise can only come in its programming. At this concert, these players, who have made Beethoven's quartets their own, showed themselves equally at home in Brahms and the youthful work of Shostakovich.

The masterwork on the programme was inevitably Beethoven's Opus 130 with its grand dignity of statement in six movements that close with that summit the "Grosse Fuge," in which Beethoven's startling inventiveness and unbridled genius are given their fullest, most daunting expression.

A work of wildly shifting moods and contrastive character, this major musical statement received a colourful, highly characterized performance. The palpable sense of concentration was evident, whether in flashier moments or in the serious and restless ones, as the dynamics shifted throughout.

The Brahms String Quartet in B Flat Major was only slightly smaller scale in its intensities, with a bright almost frothy Vivace opening to its dazzling Allegretto close that formed a meditation on freedom and structure. The quartet received virtuoso treatment, its second movement Andante almost unbearably intense and soulful, and its Agitato movement passionate and vibrant.

Veering between genial thematic material developed with openness and extreme intimacy, the quartet represents an interpretive challenge, easily met by these wizards who exploited to the hilt both the music's contentedness and passion.

Shostakovich's Opus 11, written in 1925 and 1925, when the composer was in his late teens is a winning work, the Prelude of deeply elegiac and plangent character, both sorrowful and serene, while the contrastive Scherzo, a jokey polka in the modernist idiom, is not only demanding technically but also audaciously original. The work elicited meticulous playing, and was a clear crowd pleaser.

The near-sellout audience was, then, regaled with a typical Takács evening: on show were immense authority, deep musicality, superb tone, and maturity of interpretation. It simply doesn't get better, and, indeed, this group has few rivals on the quartet scene, say, the Emerson and the Prazak -- and the Friends of Chamber Music also bags them year in year out.

© 2008 J H Stape