Our thanks to guest critic Robert R. Reilly for contributing another review, this time from nearer to home: the Corcoran Gallery.
Few things can be as pleasant on a late afternoon in the fall than to sit in the intimate neo-classical Hammer auditorium in The Corcoran Gallery of Art and listen to a world-class string quartet playing Haydn. Such was the treat on Sunday afternoon when the Takács Quartet began their program with Haydn’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2.
Bartók, String Quartets 1-6, Takács Quartet
The dog-eared score visible on the first violinist’s stand bespoke a great familiarity with this work. The deep comfort level allowed for a delicious sense of play within the quartet, and the enjoyment of the Takács members was evident in the joy with which they played it. The middle movements were conveyed with especially great warmth. In fact, an autumnal glow permeated the whole piece. However, the Takács could be rollicking and rousing when called for in the Presto movements, and meltingly lovely in turn. They darted about each other in the Finale: Presto like musical starlings. I know this quartet only from recordings, and I did not know it was as good as this until I heard the Takács perform it.
The program included classical, romantic and modern works, but not in that order. The Bartók Quartet No. 2 was sandwiched between the Haydn and the Schumann Quartet in A minor, Op. 41, No. 1. The Takács Decca/London recordings of the Bartók Quartets are famous and highly revered. After they were made, Geraldine Walther replaced Roger Tapping as violist. In the three years since then, she has obviously gelled with her confreres. Karoly Schranz, violin, and Andras Fejer, cello, have been with Takács from the beginning; they have now played together for some 33 years. The superb first violin, Edward Dusinberre, joined in 1993.
I confess that, while musical friends whom I respect love the Bartók Quartets dearly, I have not yet reached that level of affection or understanding. Nonetheless, it was clear to me that, in the first movement of the Second, the Takács took it very much as a romantic work, though from a world in which something had clearly gone wrong. That much was certain from the disorientation of the uncertain tonality and the brooding sadness. The slashing attacks in the second movement were riveting in their ferocity. This was tremendously exciting playing with hair-trigger precision. It is hard to think that the Lento movement could be played more expressively.
The Schumann Quartet was a joy, from the keening loveliness of the opening theme, through the wonderfully skittish, Mendelssohnian scherzo to a finale with a marvelously hushed, magically delicate coda, rounding off into an energetic climax. Watching and listening to the Takács instruments ricocheting off one another in the fugal tumble of wonderful melody was a treat.
The Takács got what it deserved: a standing ovation.