A performance of the Takács Quartet together with Muzsikás, the Hungarian folk group -- a concert at the Freer Gallery of Art in February 2004 -- was the first time I heard that formidable quartet. It was a performance that left so indelible an impression on me, that I went to seek out every Takács performance within reach. It was also a concert in which a performance of Bartók’s third string quartet – with the Muzsikás renderings of the authentic tunes that made for much of the inspiration of Bartók interpolated between the movements – was so driven, so perfect, so pulsating and bursting with the joy of music-making that it converted one Bartók neophyte and one Classical Music neophyte on the spot.
I remember Muzsikás, too, the group of Hungarian teachers and professionals who dig out their often primitive folk instruments and tour the world with Magyar tunes. One such instrument, a bass of sorts, almost annoyed me, so pointless seemed the imitation of the shape of a double bass when in fact it was more or less a wooden tub with a neck and one butchers yarn stretched across… incessantly beaten with a stick. It wasn’t pretty but on occasion insightful. The fact that they never disturbed from the Takács’s performance of the Bartók, however, was their greatest achievement… or perhaps the Takács’s.
Jens F. Laurson, Dip Your Ears No. 8: Béla Bartók, The Six String Quartets, Takács Quartet (Ionarts, August 5, 2004)
"We will try to create a unified musical pleasure," says Muzsikas's bassist Daniel Hamar. But how will the two ensembles relate to each other? "First, we will set up an atmosphere with 20 minutes of Hungarian folk music, then the Takacs will start playing Bartok's Fourth Quartet, but we will insert traditional tunes in between movements." Next, a Bartok violin duo performed by a folk player and a classical player; and when the Takacs then plays Bartok's Romanian Dances, Hamar will add his bass sound. "I'll play on gut strings with a short bow for an un-classical effect." Muzsikas are classically trained, but started playing Hungarian village music during the folk revival of the Seventies. "We listened to archive recordings made by Bartok himself," says Hamar, "but realised it couldn't be done using classical techniques. So we went to the villages to discover how it should be done. In the end, we only found what we needed from Hungarian musicians living in Romania."Jens heard the first incarnation of this program, which the two groups presented together in the United States a couple years ago. He remembers the experience in the sidebar commentary. An anonymous author contributed a review of the London concert (Takacs Quartet/Muzsikas, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, January 19) for The Independent:
When he made his field recordings, he was more concerned about refreshing creative impulses than preserving tradition. Yet, as in England, there has been a spin-off in the subsequent folk revival. Groups such as Muzsikas, going since 1973, can hear the way it was done a century ago. One feature of this concert was to play excerpts from Bartok's collection, which validated the singing and playing styles as clearly as you could wish. Muzsikas, joined by the folk diva Marta Sebestyen, started with a set of songs and dances. The regular phrases, the duelling violins over rock-steady, basic accompaniment by three-string viola and bass, sounded more like what you hear in Kodaly's music than memories of Bartok.I am not yet aware if the two groups will be touring the United States again, but I would very much like to hear this program myself.