Takács Quartet in New York – Haydn, Britten & Shostakovich – with Marc-André Hamelin

String Quartet in D, Op.76/5
String Quartet No.2 in C, Op.36
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57

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

Marc-André Hamelin (piano)

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 25 October, 2012
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Takács Quartet. Photograph: takacsquartet.comHaving pioneered the string quartet form, Joseph Haydn wrote his late such works in the epitome of classical style, lacking any excess frills. The Takács Quartet played the Haydn with unified phrasing and sublime sensitivity. The opening Allegretto’s emotional lightness was portrayed with warmth of tone, even in the first violin’s highest range, and each reiteration of the theme had subtly charged differences. The phrasing of the Largo felt easy and natural, the players breathing together. They found the expressivity in this trouble-free music playing it with impressive ease and intonation. Their musical intuition continued in the lightly frolicking Minuet, and their articulation in the sprightly finale was clean, sparkling, and joyful.

Edward Dusinberre introduced Benjamin Britten’s Second String Quartet. He noted Henry Purcell’s influence on the outer movements, the musicians performed segments of that composer’s music for comparison’s sake. Dusinberre remarked that Britten’s middle movement seemed inspired by Bartók’s String Quartet No.4, from which, unfortunately, they did not play anything. The performance of the Britten highlighted the contrasting elements that make this work so endearing. The opening movement pulls between being rooted to a pedal tone and extreme harmonic flight. Károly Schranz’s tone was brighter than Dusinberre’s, making for an interesting balance, yet the overall dynamics were so perfectly realized that the blend never became off-kilter. The second movement’s contradictory elements involve forceful, rhythmically driven passages performed with muted instruments. Dusinberre’s Gypsy-like octave melodies were full of passion. The ‘Chacony’ finale is the “emotional center” of the piece, Dusinberre noting that it depicts Britten’s fascination with loneliness and isolation as expressed through many solos and cadenzas. The Takács members emphasized the movement’s conflicting nature and, overall, gave an organic performance of this harmonically adventurous piece that was as natural and relatable as the Haydn.

Marc-André Hamelin. Photograph: Nina LargeShostakovich wrote his Piano Quintet for himself to play with the Beethoven Quartet. Its premiere in 1940 was suspenseful – would this piece displease the Soviet authorities with its bourgeois associations? It won the Stalin Prize in 1941. The Takács musicians and Marc-André Hamelin had differing views of the work. The quartet-members played with unified expression, drawing the utmost emotionality from each phrase. Hamelin’s contribution was rigid, with incisive attacks that distracted from the gorgeous melodic development. Even in moments where mechanically percussive playing suits the music, Hamelin overdid things, draining the irony from the scherzo’s harsh staccato sections. His fugal entries were displeasingly conspicuous in their contrast to the string-players’ smooth lines. Whereas András Fejér’s pizzicato accompaniment in the haunting ‘Intermezzo’ was captivating in its expressive warmth, Hamelin evoked only bleakness with his minimal use of pedal. His playing did become lighter in the finale, yet he lacked the subtle dynamic variations of the strings, and the playfully abrupt ending lost its meaningfulness.

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