Takács Quartet at Zankel Hall – Janáček, Britten & Debussy

String Quartet No.1 (Kreutzer Sonata)
String Quartet No.1 in D, Op.25
String Quartet in G minor, Op.10

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

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 13 April, 2012
Venue: Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City

Takács Quartet. Photograph: takacsquartet.comJanáček’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ string quartet gains its title from the Tolstoy novella. The composer was inspired by the literature, perhaps identifying with its theme of a troubled marriage. The piece is based on extreme contrast, with sweet melodies juxtaposed with sections of folksy rawness. The Takács Quartet attacked the music with plenty of passion but even their sublime musicianship could not extract much substance from this frilly, repetitive work. The second movement showcased the musicians’ impressive ability to employ rubato thoughtfully and effectively. Each player’s instrument had a distinct tonal quality, and the inner voices especially shone in the third movement. In the last movement, Geraldine Walther’s solo was exquisite in its rich timbre – if only all violas sounded like this! Despite the ensemble’s best efforts to propel the music forward in the finale’s galloping rhythms, the piece’s fragmented nature left the listener hanging.

Britten’s String Quartet No.1 is another odd duck in the repertoire. Written in haste for a commission during the composer’s American residency in 1941, the work’s subtle emotional shadings are complex and intriguing. Its serene opening evokes something pastoral, and András Fejér played the pizzicatos with sensitive expressivity. The second movement featured spiccato bowing that was not completely together yet had an infectious excitement. The musicians had their finest moment in the subdued beauty of the third movement with their finely nuanced bowing. Some notes in the finale’s rapid passagework were muffled, but the atmosphere created was magical.

The performance of this delicate piece was ultimately marred by a force beyond the players’ control – the persistent low rumble of the passing subway trains in this subterranean hall. Although Carnegie Hall’s newest auditorium sparkles in visual beauty, it suffers a failure in soundproofing.

The Takács Quartet does not create a big sound, nor are the players particularly well-blended, but they get to the music’s core. Their performance of the Debussy portrayed a color scheme that fitted the music perfectly. Choice of tempos fell on the brisk side, yet always left room for breathe, each phrase have just the right intention. Edward Dusinberre’s tone was not the prettiest, and tended to harshness at times, yet his bow arm seemed to be directly connected to his lungs, breathing sublime expression into the notes. As in the Britten, Debussy’s slow movement was the most impressive, with its soft subtlety taking the listener on an unforgettable journey. The musicians were not completely unified in the last movement’s transition into its final fast tempo, yet the playing was so heartfelt and natural that technical perfection might have ruined the exquisite interpretation. The joyously sunny nature of the ending was enchanting.

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