to awards for their recording activities,
for this lunchtime concert the Takács
presented two composers with whom they are
very much associated. The Takács’ recording
of the Bartók Quartets won the 1998
Gramophone Award for Chamber Music, while
their recording of Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’
Quartets and Op. 74 won the same award in
2002. Home turf, then, for this coupling.
Third Quartet (1927) is remarkable for its
concentration of utterance within its short
time-span (just under 1/4 of an hour, here).
The first thing to strike the listener is
the quality of the Takács’ pianissimo.
Rapt, massively tonally expressive within
the dynamic, it had the capacity Wigmore audience
sitting in complete silence. Warm and highly
emotive, it set up the basic ground for these
performances: a technical excellence that
followed Bartók’s instructions perfectly.
Diminuendi were perfectly controlled; fortes
were raw when appropriate, yet legato could
be the sweetest of unbroken lines when necessary,
too. When the world of folk music did surface
in the melodic material, it was given its
full weight, and when the music danced it
was infectious. Accents were biting where
appropriate; the quartet’s control was miraculous.
One can hear how this quartet is immersed
in this repertoire. For them, it is as natural
as breathing. For sure, this lunchtime must
have won this piece some new friends.
if Beethoven’s Op. 127 needs to win any friends.
Its status as a masterwork is fully acknowledged,
and to it the Takács brought a fruitful
mix of youthful impetuosity and mature consideration
- no easy balancing act. The hyper-rich tone
they brought to the opening seemed in marked
contrast to the Bartók, almost as if
inviting the audience in, leading us gently
to the easy lyricism of the Allegro. The playful
element inherent in this work was fully (and
delightfully) brought out. Only a fairly uniform
roundness of tone threatened to iron out the
contrasts; yet one was constantly astonished
by their careful consideration of the score.
Adagio, one of Beethoven’s beloved (and extended)
variation movements, was marked by more of
the concentration that flowed through the
Bartók. As the instruments entered
one by one, the sense of withdrawal was palpable
(the technical security, in itself breathtaking,
was secondary). As movement was gently introduced,
the sheer scope of terrain became staggering,
from the cheeky, almost dancing to the near
stasis of the close. This set of five variations
spoke as a single expression of inspiration.
characteristic of the Takács that there
was no let-up of intensity for the Scherzando
vivace (magnificently effective fragmenting
of material at the end). But it was the autumnal
glow of the finale, a joyous, almost bucolic
contrast that brought the world of the ‘Pastoral’
symphony to mind, that was perhaps most impressive,
and certainly most life-enhancing. The perfect
close to a memorable recital.
Recordings by the Takács Quartet:
Razumovsky String Quartets, Decca 470 847-2
String Quartets 455 297-2