R. Schumann, String Quartet (op. 41/3) / Piano Quintet, Takács Quartet, M.-A. Hamelin (2009)
Schubert, String Quartets 13/14, Takács Quartet (2006)
The program played to all of this venerable quartet's strengths, beginning with the simmering, moody themes of Schubert's A minor quartet (D. 804), named for Schubert's incidental music for the play Rosamunde, a theme from which appears in the quartet's second movement. In the first three movements, this performance rose little above a hush, with the pure, sweet tone of first violinist Edward Dusinberre leading the blossoming of minor into major and back. The second movement had the feel of a wordless melody hummed to oneself while on a stroll, a glowing, rosy set of variations, but the third movement stood out for its folk-inflected introduction to a delicate dance, forlorn and lonely even in its trio set in major. The fourth movement, the only moment of sunny exuberance, had all of its staccato chords in unity, with little Haydnesque jokes at the theme's return.
Britten's three string quartets, masterful 20th-century examples of the genre that make one wish he had composed more of them, are not yet in the Takács's discography. Dusinberre gave an insightful introduction to the first quartet (D major, op. 25). Composed in 1940, when Britten was living in the United States, the work was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, for whom the Library's acoustically gorgeous auditorium is named. Its opening is one of the stranger moments in the repertoire, with the three higher instruments hanging in the clouds on long, high notes over distracted pizzicati in the cello. The first movement's animated fast section rumbled away, turning heavenward again to dissolve into those numinous, floating structures of the opening. The second movement, a heavy-footed dance, was interrupted by garrulous growls from the four instruments in grouchy conversation. The third movement, described by Dusinberre as one of Britten's evocations of the seascape of his home country in East Anglia, was marked by the group's impeccable intonation and balance, caressing the dissonances that dissolve into consonance. The fourth movement was an athletic romp, with impish upward flourishes that powered the piece to an ecstatic ending. When the group records the Britten quartets, it should be memorable.
Anne Midgette, Classical music review: The Takacs Quartet (Washington Post, November 15)
The next chamber music concert at the Library of Congress will feature the Apollon Musagète Quartet this Friday (November 16, 8 pm), playing music by Haydn, Szymanowski, Suk, and Mendelssohn.