Takács Quartet at Queen Elizabeth Hall [Haydn, Bartók & Smetana’s From my Life]

String Quartet in B flat, Op.71/1
String Quartet No.3
String Quartet No.1 in E minor (From my Life)

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

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 25 January, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The Takács Quartet once again drew a large and appreciative audience for this the second of three recitals this season for Southbank Centre’s International Chamber Music Season.

Takács Quartet. Photograph: takacsquartet.comHaydn’s ‘Apponyi’ string quartets, commissioned by the eponymous Court Chamberlain at Esterháza and written between Haydn’s visits to London in 1791 and 1794, teem with brilliant writing. In the exuberant Allegro of the B flat work, the Takács players brilliantly caught all of the work’s variegated moods, with Edward Dusinberre’s confident leadership a joy and the playing of all four musicians being constantly immaculate, rich-toned, and characterful. After a strikingly meditative reading of the Adagio, the Minuet was full of delights, and the finale, done with a truly light touch, was imbued with a really infectious dance quality.

In Bartók’s Third String Quartet, the bleakness of the outer movements made a profound impact, as did eerie sound-effects. The finale’s whirlwind coda was thrilling, providing some degree of release, but most impressive of all was the sense of the three movements flowing seamlessly from start to finish.

The first of Smetana’s string quartets drew much of its inspiration from the composer’s personal life and from his identification with Czech nationalism. From the Takács members, this was a deeply felt and idiomatic performance – the highly romantic nature of the first movement was strongly communicated, pointed up especially by the highly expressive contribution of Geraldine Walther. The folk-like elements and the wit on display in the second movement (Allegro moderato à la Polka) also offered many pleasures, the trio section inflected with great charm. After a particularly heartfelt reading of the Largo, the finale proceeded with such a high level of energy that the sudden arrival of the high E, denoting the curse of Smetana’s tinnitus, was all the more shocking.

The buoyant finale of the first of Haydn’s Opus 74 string quartets was the delightful encore.

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