Takács Quartet

String Quartet No.1
String Quartet in G, Op.77/1
String Quartet in A minor, Op.51/2

Takács Quartet [Edward Dusinberre & Károly Schranz (violins), Geraldine Walther (viola) & András Fejér (cello)]

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 24 February, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The Takács Quartet has been praised for its performances of Bartók, Beethoven and Schubert, although I don’t think that anyone would seriously suggest that in Beethoven the Takács rivals the likes of groups such as The Lindsays, Végh, Talich or Italian.

A very enthusiastic audience filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Things did not start well, the two violins were out of sync in the opening bars of the Bartók, and vibrato was applied in an indiscriminate fashion. Every section of the piece sounded tonally alike; there was a constant rich hue to the sound, which was often entirely inappropriate. There was no incisiveness, the dynamic range was limited and dance elements were underplayed. The leader did a lot of intense writhing about and arm-flailing at climaxes, but unfortunately this passion wasn’t reflected in his playing. It was all was too even and luscious.

Much the same could be said of the Haydn and here there were intonation problems, which particularly affected the second violin, and there was the same use of heavy vibrato that robbed the first movement of life and variety. In the Adagio I almost expected to hear portamento and the musicians failed to play below piano. They were rather more successful in the Minuet, which was dangerously slow, while the Presto trio had real attack – for the first time in the evening there was more than blandness, but the finale was little more than efficient. Haydn was – by some distance – the greatest writer of string quartets prior to Beethoven, and it is quite an achievement to make them sound uneventful – but the Takács Quartet managed this.

Brahms’s Second Quartet is hardly in the same class as the Haydn and Bartók works and to make any impact it requires real passion and commitment, neither of which were much in evidence in this performance. In the first movement intonation was again suspect, vibrato relentlessly rich and even, and the dynamic range limited. The slow movement was notable in that the viola player showed some interest in proceedings, both in terms of body and musical language. Otherwise the emotional range was somewhat limited. Rather strangely the third movement was quieter than the Andante, but there was some suave phrasing. In the finale I was reminded of Macbeth’s “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

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