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Seen and Heard Recital Review

Debussy & Beethoven: Takács Quartet (Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz, violins; Roger Tapping; András Fejér, cello), Wigmore Hall, 9 May, 2005 (CC)

With a recording history that includes two Gramophone Awards and a Grammy, the Takács Quartet for many can do no wrong. The technical polish is indeed remarkable, the sound warm, round and welcoming. Yet above and beyond all this they have the interpretative wherewithall to tackle the hardest of all nuts to crack, late Beethoven.

But first things first, Debussy’s Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 of 1893. Not only was the warmth of the Takács Quartet entirely apt, but so was their projection of the very essence of chamber music. Solo lines were never over-projected, but rather emerged naturally from the prevailing textures. Evoking a real sense of mystery, the first movement contrasted well with the dancing, pizzicato-dominated Assez vif et bien rythmé (complete with swooning playing from Dusinberre to contrast with the pizzicati). The rapt intensity of the Andantino enabled one to bask in the gorgeous tone of Roger Tapping’s viola (placed outside right). There was a real depth of expression here; just as there was in the glowing introduction to the finale (with the main Allegro exquisitely balanced even in forte).

The String Quartet in F, Op. 135 is a marvellous example of late-Beethovenian concision. It is a work that can juxtapose moods and emotions almost schizophrenically within its brief duration. Like all late Beethoven it needs absolute unanimity of interpretative intention from all four players, and this it received. The opening was full of character, playful yet not contradicting the almost disturbingly skeletal development. The contrasts of the Vivace (fleet of foot, with stamping, interruptive accents) led to the heart of the quartet, the Lento assai, cantate e tranquillo. The wonderful example of late-Beethovenian serenity, this movement tended towards the stationary and held the capacity audience to silence – rightly so. The almost improvisatory ease of the finale after the Question-and-Answer passages (‘Muss es sein?’ asks Beethoven in his three-note motif) made for marked contrast at the dramatic return of the question-motif – at which point it seemed for all the world that Beethoven was intent on ‘breaking through’ the medium of the string quartet.

An interesting juxtaposition of quartets that worked perfectly.

Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Late Beethoven String Quartets (Opp. 95-135), Takács Quartet, Decca 470 849-2 (three discs).

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