Takács Quartet at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Haydn, Shostakovich & Mendelssohn

String Quartet in E flat, Op.71/3
String Quartet No.2 in A, Op.68
String Quartet No.2 in A minor, Op.13

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

Reviewed by: Bob Briggs

Reviewed: 10 November, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Takács Quartet. Photograph: takacsquartet.comIf Haydn did nothing else, he brought a sense of fun into music. Not that there hadn’t been lightness and shade in music before Haydn, but it was the great Franz Joseph who first allowed us to smile at the music we were enjoying listening to. The E flat example from Opus 71 is irrepressible in its outgoing air, it defies you not to smile when listening, and he achieves this whilst creating a perfect piece of music. The Takács Quartet was a trifle po–faced in its reading of this work, and whilst there was humour in the performance, it was underplayed, and the sheer joyousness of the piece was missing. What the players did show was that this is where Beethoven begins, and thus the continuation of the line was confirmed.

Shostakovich’s Second String Quartet sees him feeling his way into a medium which would become his most personal means of expression. Oddly, as he took these tentative steps in quartet-writing he wrote the E minor Piano Trio, and a more assured work one couldn’t wish for! Here, the Takács Quartet seemed more at home, the musicians’ seriousness of approach suiting this music, the scherzo and finale being delivered with a strength of purpose wholly in keeping with the bleak nature of the music, and the end, in a desolate minor key, was devastating in its cheerlessness.

At 18 years of age Mendelssohn discovered Beethoven’s ‘late’ string quartets, willingly taking up the challenge set by the master and creating his A minor String Quartet. This is a splendid work, profoundly serious, yet, as with Haydn, allowing smile and delight. This was a fine performance but, again, the players seemed unwilling, or perhaps unable, to really let their collective hair down and allow for ribaldry.

Despite reservations, these were fine expositions of the music, the interpretations thought out as regards the progress of the music, and the cumulative effect of the pieces well realised – the ending of the Mendelssohn being especially magical. However, that special something which makes a performance scintillate was missing.

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