Takács Quartet – Beethoven

String Quartet in B flat, Op.18/6
String Quartet in F, Op.135
String Quartet in C, Op.59/3 (Razumovsky)

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

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 12 May, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Takács Quartet. Photograph: takacsquartet.comYears ago there was a loopy old hippy called Roop who haunted the South Bank and would regale anyone unlucky enough to stray too close with his insights into music. He was, in his own words, “addicted to Beethoven” and had an epiphany or two under the influence of LSD, usually via the string quartets. “Oh man”, he would say in rapture, “it’s like the music is actually speaking to you – I mean speaking”. I wonder how his scrambled synapses would have coped with the Takács Quartet’s penultimate concert in its Beethoven series – he’d probably be high in the sky with diamonds.

We’re currently blessed with some very fine quartet-ensembles – Elias, Belcea, Jerusalem, Pavel Haas, and there are more – but the Takács, particularly in Beethoven, have become the gold standard. The intensity of these musicians’ connection with the music and with the audience redefines the passion and intelligence of Beethoven’s genius. Roop was right – the Takács members lay out the music so that it seems to speak, that there is a powerful narrative at play beyond words – and beyond the need for psychotropic drugs.

The Takács Quartet’s Beethoven is both timeless and yet of its time, in the same way as the Busch Quartet’s, or Schnabel’s, or Brendel’s; and, like Brendel, the Takács musicians have an inquisitive and contemporary sympathy with Beethoven’s subversive irony as much as with his transcendental otherness, and place their collective musical personality at Beethoven’s service. Unlike Adolf Busch, however, the Takács’s Edward Dusinberre’s lead seems, at least to judge from those Busch Quartet recordings, more of a leadership by stealth, here playing with second violinist Lina Bahn, standing in for Károly Schranz, who is recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Compared with Dusinberre’s predominantly lean, bright sound, hers was almost voluptuous, and she played with very Takács-like intelligence and spontaneity.

From the opening bars of Opus 18/Number 6, the players revealed their finely tuned response to the music’s off-beat humour, and it was sheer joy to try and catch just a fraction of the way the musicians phase in and out of their brilliantly written roles; and the balancing of the impact of the potentially rather portentous slow introduction to the rest of the finale was masterly.

Opus 135 was remarkably focused, with a fantastically incisive scherzo – another of Beethoven’s apotheoses of the dance. The slow movement unfolded the Takács Quartet’s veiled, non-histrionic emotionalism for all to hear, and the “Muss es sein?” / “Es muss sein” question-and-answer rhetoric of the finale had enough dynamic beyond-speech potential to keep Roop mumbling for a very long while.

After the interval came the Third Razumovsky Quartet, in a performance in which the gathering identity of the first violin in the slow introduction was just one instance of miraculous musicianship. And if you wanted another, there was the musicians’ amazing virtuosity in the finale – daring, superbly controlled and thrilling – and in the endlessly whirling figures and repeated scraps of melody, you could hear where Messrs Glass and Adams picked up an idea or three.

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