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Takács Quartet @ KC

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Franck, Piano Quintet / Debussy, String Quartet, M.-A. Hamelin, Takács Quartet
(Hyperion, 2016)
We used to hear the Takács Quartet more frequently in the Washington area. As long as they come back to these parts every year or two, Ionarts can probably survive. The most recent chance to hear them was on Wednesday evening, presented again by the Fortas Chamber Music Series at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. In between we remain on the life support of recordings, which the group continues to release at the rate of one or two each year. Although the two founding members, second violinist Károly Schranz and cellist András Féjer, are not getting any younger, the quartet adds to its discography at a dizzying pace, always hungry for new vistas in the repertoire. The next disc, available next month, combines music by Franck and Debussy.

Something about the opening work on this program, Dvořák's 14th string quartet (A-flat major, op. 105), just did not sit right. The first movement is somewhat episodic, and the many stops and starts did not always sound unified. The scherzo, with its furiant-like hemiola shifts, was light and even more relaxed in tempo in the trio, but by the third movement there was the sense that maybe the golden era of the Takács had come and gone, with intonation issues cropping up and the feeling that the work had not been fully digested. Happily, what followed this less than polished rendition showed it was only a fluke, a rare example of the Takács missing the target and not a sign of general decline.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, The dependable artistry of Takács Quartet (Washington Post, April 22)
In the rest of the evening's selections, the group was back in their accustomed sweet spot, beginning with Webern's youthful, tragic Langsamer Satz from 1905. The piece is labeled "in E-flat major," which should be enough to signal that it is not the Webern you might expect. The Takács teased out the carefully layered voices and lush harmonies, always clearly putting one in the foreground over the others, balanced even in the loudest sections.

The third of Beethoven's "Razumovsky" quartets (C major, op. 59/3) was even more winning, from the enigmatic opening chords, which proceed by sneaky chromatic shifts from an F# fully diminished seventh chord to C major. The fast section was chatty and charming, mercurial but not overly fast, and the drawn-out setup of the recapitulation was excellent, as was first violinist Edward Dusinberre on the little cadenza moment. All in all, an eye-twinkler of a piece, followed by wonderful, warm viola solos in the slow movement, with the cello staying extra-soft on the pizzicato accompaniment. This movement's restraint and dark quality are so Takács, and no one does this melancholy tone better. The Menuetto was a contrast, ultra-genial in nature, with the first violin's ornamented lines in the trio not overshadowing the melody. The concluding fugal finale was fun and fleet, the wry side of the Takács sound.

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