Review: Takács Quartet

April 12, Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond

In its latest visit to the University of Richmond, the Takács Quartet contrasted late Haydn with late Beethoven, then turned to a substantial, although interpretively elusive, piece of the romantic quartet literature, Grieg’s Quartet in G minor, Op. 27.

Beethoven has been a cornerstone of the Takács’ repertory for years. The ensemble’s cycle of the 16 quartets, recorded for Decca shortly after the turn of the century, is rated by many to be the reference set. Although the group’s membership has changed since those sessions, its approach to this music – sonically robust, assertive in accents, attentive to dynamic contrasts and to inner strands of voicings and musical lines – remains much the same.

In this program, the Takács – violinists Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist András Fejér – played the last of the Beethoven quartets, the F major, Op. 135. The performance was a vivid realization of “musical argument,” an exposition of a complex construct whose big first movement almost defies performers to maintain continuity. In subsequent movements, more straightforward in construction and expression, the foursome hit its interpretive stride in the central slow movement, portraying the music as an expression of reluctant leave-taking.

The group’s treatment of Haydn’s Quartet in G major, Op. 76, No. 1, was “old school” in projecting rich string sonority – a tonal profile that might just as readily fit Brahms or Dvořák – but also more sensitive to classical style in fairly brisk tempos and sharp, even abrupt, accenting and high contrasts in dynamic levels.

If Grieg had somehow lost his score of incidental music for “Peer Gynt,” he could have reconstructed much of it from pages of his Quartet in G minor. The quartet, written a couple of years after “Peer Gynt,” mines the same vein of turbulent drama, evocative sound-scaping and lyricism that walks a fine line between sentiment and sentimentality.

In this performance, the Takács projected the high drama of the first and last movements at near-orchestral scale, paying the price of some sonic congestion, brought out the sweetness of the romanze movement with a slight undertaste of saccharine, and reveled in the folk-dance qualities of the intermezzo.

Overall, the group presented the Grieg as an epic in miniature, which it is, but also as a succession of episodes.

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