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Takács Quartet and Friends

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Schumann, Piano Quintet, Takács Quartet, Marc-André Hamelin

(released on November 10, 2009)
Hyperion CDA67631 | 56'33"

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Beethoven, Middle Period String Quartets, Takács Quartet

Online scores:
Haydn, op. 71/2 | Beethoven, op. 59/3
Schumann, Piano Quintet (op. 44)
The Ionarts obsession with the recordings and (perhaps even more) live concerts of the Takács Quartet is pronounced enough that the ensemble has its own Ionarts label. We followed them anxiously through the retirement of violist Roger Tapping, who has been succeeded quite admirably by Geraldine Walther, and we arrived in the Music Center at Strathmore with some concern about the prognosis for founding second violinist Károly Schranz. He recently underwent rotator cuff surgery but is reportedly recovering well and by this September plans to resume performing with the quartet he helped found in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. For this spring's concerts, Lina Bahn, whom we have admired many times both with the Corigliano Quartet and elsewhere, sat in for him, a daunting task but one of which she was quite capable.

The opening Haydn, op. 71/2, was delivered with a bright, elegant first movement, the first theme's octave motif leaping off the page and rocketing crisply around the ring of instruments. First violinist Edward Dusinberre had an impeccably clear tone in the soaring lines and florid solo decoration of the slow movement, over a glowing ember kind of sound from the other instruments. Bahn seemed a little unsure at a couple points in the fourth movement, a sweet little dance, which added to the impression of the performance as beautiful but not exceptional. In any case, the following Beethoven, the third of the Rasumovsky quartets (op. 59/3), is more of a Takács specialty. It opened with a series of almost disembodied chords, glistening reflections, followed by another virtuosic display by the first violin, best in its sort-of cadenza, set in a dream-like stasis.

The second movement was the most memorable, a gloomy serenade that floated above the pizzicato cello. The tempo here was just right, allowed the pulse to rock back and forth, never feeling rushed. The quartet wisely did not try to force the sound, in a vain attempt to fill the hall, requiring the listener to come to them, leaning close as if to see the varnished smoothness of an exquisite artwork's surface. The other excellent part of this performance was a dazzlingly fast performance of the fourth movement, its fugal opening another test for Bahn, as the subject, a cascade of fast notes, is handed first to the viola and second violin. It was certainly fine Beethoven, if not quite that inexplicably breath-taking Takács Beethoven. This fall, presumably with their regular second violinist, the Takács Quartet undertakes a collaborative project with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival called Quartet, a play by David Lawrence Morse about Beethoven's late quartets, for which the ensemble will play one of those late quartets, op. 132.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Takacs retains richness, even with pinch-hitter (Washington Post, April 19)
One might wonder why Washington Performing Arts Society decided to present this concert at Strathmore, a venue too large for this kind of chamber music -- in terms of both the acoustic (especially for the two quartets on the first half, where the sound seemed to rattle around in the large space) and the vast number of seats to fill. For the second half, with a Steinway concert grand behind them, the ensemble seemed to come to life, everyone seeming more comfortable with pianist Joyce Yang: the sound issue from the first half was instantly resolved. Yang, it turns out, is an excellent chamber musician, keeping herself in the background until her moments to bring out a bass line or the principal melody in this performance of one of the most perfect works of chamber music, Schumann's piano quintet (E♭ major, op. 44), featured on the quartet's most recent recording (with Marc-André Hamelin). Its second movement, so tragic in an understated way, was played here as a quiet, rueful funeral march, followed by a breathless third movement, where Yang gave a thrilling touch to the many détaché runs of notes and chords. This was a stupendous performance of a gorgeous piece of music.

WPAS has followed its usual formula in planning its 2010-2011 season, returning to many of its usual favorites. While this generally means few surprises, it also guarantees that many of their concerts are not to be missed. Things are no different next season, which features the following highlights, which can be gleaned, with some effort, from an extremely complicated interactive brochure: Yo-Yo Ma in a program that is a little pops or gala concert in tone (October 21), Anne-Sophie Mutter with Lambert Orkis playing all the Brahms violin sonatas (November 13), Renée Fleming in a recital of something or other (January 8), Evgeny Kissin in what promises to be a knockout all-Liszt program (March 5), and Maurizio Pollini playing the last three Beethoven sonatas (March 30). It will also have visiting orchestras, including the Mariinsky with Gergiev in Mahler's 8th symphony (October 19), the Dresden Staatskapelle with Daniel Harding (November 3), the Boston Symphony Orchestra with James Levine (or, quite possibly, someone else -- March 19), and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Charles Dutoit (May 20). Of greatest interest if slightly less star wattage are appearances by Joyce DiDonato (February 15), András Schiff in an all-Schumann program (October 20), Marc-André Hamelin (April 29), Kapell Competition winner Sofya Gulyak (January 22), Till Fellner (January 29), and a devilish program from an Ionarts favorite, Pierre-Laurent Aimard (May 5). See the rest for yourself.


herman said...

Totally crazy to put a string quartet in 2000 seat hall. Only in America. May I ask if those seats were all occupied for this concert?


Charles T. Downey said...

No, quite a few empty seats, which is hardly surprising. I would guess that it was more people than could fit into the venues WPAS usually gets for chamber music, the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater and Harman Hall, but I don't have actual numbers.

jfl said...

Sounds like WPAS was pulling a Hoertnagel.

Charles T. Downey said...

Jens, I'll add that one to the Ionarts phrase glossary. ;-)

Unknown said...

My son and I sat in the center of the Promenade section, close to the box seat rows. We were sorely tempted to move forward for the second half because the acoustic seemed too large and there were plenty of seats closer in to the sides and front.

We probably should have. With the aggravation we felt from the boorish behavior of the audience near us (talking, fidgeting kids, liberation of cough drops from noisy cellophane wrappers and numerous phlegmatic outbursts), the distant acoustic made it a bit more difficult to hear the sublimeness of the music.

Charles T. Downey said...

Bill, that was exactly my impression of what the sound would have been like from farther away, although I was seated in Row H on the floor. Thanks for confirming the suspicion!