A lot has changed for the Takács Quartet since I last heard them
live in Sydney back in 2004. On a new label and with a new violist,
they remain one of the best string quartets, if not the best string
quartet, in the business. And this disc, the first fruits of
their new relationship with Hyperion, really is the business.
performance of Death and the Maiden is the most dramatic
and satisfying I have ever heard, recorded or live. The shock
of the unanimous attack on the opening chords signals a reading
that bristles with nervous energy. Although it is the second
movement that is based on one of Schubert’s songs, you would
be forgiven for thinking that this first movement is too. The
changes in mood, the plaintive cries, the soothing replies and
the galloping chase motif carry terrifying echoes of the mood
of Der Erlkönig. The first movement’s major key
second subject never really shakes the sense of danger, and
every return to the minor brings a darkening of tone colour.
Deft fingers manage the transitions fluently, and Edward Dusinberre
on first violin communicates tension and urgency in his high
second movement is equally arresting. The theme emerges seamlessly
from the dying notes of the first movement, flowing sorrowfully
but swiftly. Dusinberre again shines in the first variation.
The chase of the third is about contrast rather than out-and-out
violence. The fifth variation preserves a sense of mystery
until András Fejér’s fatalistic cello provides an answer. The
movement ends in the quiet resolution of resignation rather
third movement has a tough, grim swagger and leads into a finale
that builds, from a dance of shadows by guttering candlelight,
into a blazing tarantella.
the daemonic fire of Death and the Maiden, an air of
melancholy pervades the performance of the Rosamunde quartet
that follows. Not that this reading is any less involving.
The quartet’s ability to produce unanimous and striking dynamic
contrasts will keep you hooked on every melodic line. The second
movement is particularly touching. I also liked the wistfulness
the Takács Quartet brings to the perky finale.
descriptions above, fueled by my enthusiasm for this disc, may
imply a willfulness in the Takács Quartet’s interpretative approach.
There is none. The Takács Quartet places these quartets very
much in their context, revealing their classical roots as much
as their romantic strivings. They just manage to do so with
wonderful string quartets - the Alban Berg Quartet, for example
- strive for unanimity of sound. I think the Takács Quartet’s
success derives from the fact that, unlike those quartets, these
musicians stand for diversity of sound with unanimity of purposes,
preserving their distinctive individual voices rather than blending
them into one. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons that the
Takács Quartet has been able to change violists with so little
disruption. Geraldine Walther, formerly principal viola of
the San Francisco Symphony, is an excellent ensemble player
as well as a fine soloist. Her San Francisco Der Schwanendreher
and Trauermusik rank with the best (see review).
She does not so much fill Roger Tapping’s shoes as proudly wear
her own. Her sound perhaps lacks something of Tapping’s warmth,
but has an attractive ruminative, cello-like sonority instead.
move from Decca to Hyperion, an independent label with production
values that are second to none and an annual output of approximately
eighty new discs, is also to be welcomed. After almost two
decades of cutting disc after prize-winning disc for Decca,
the Takács Quartet would seem an unlikely casualty of the recording
torpor enslaving the “major” labels. Whatever the reason for
their move, the prospect of regular new Takács Quartet recordings
among Hyperion’s annual eighty is mouthwatering, particularly
if they remain at this exalted standard. Hyperion certainly
lavishes its best recorded sound on the Takács Quartet here,
capturing these performances in a warm, immediate and clear
acoustic. Mischa Donat’s liner notes strike just the right
tone. So does the death-laden cover art: Adolphe Hiremy-Hirschl’s
surreal “Ahasuerus at the End of the World”, complete with dead
maiden, is a perfect choice.
expertly recorded and brilliantly played performances are a
feast for greedy ears. It just doesn’t get any better than