Takács Quartet with Aleksander Madžar at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Haydn, Ravel & Shostakovich

String Quartet in D, Op.64/5 (The Lark)
String Quartet in F
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op.57

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

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 16 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Takács Quartet. Photograph: takacsquartet.comToday, the Takács Quartet is some way from where it began. Only two members of the original line up remain: violinist Károly Schranz and cellist András Fejér were two of the three students to join Gabor Takács-Nagy, fellow undergraduate of Budapest’s Franz Liszt Academy, back in 1975 to form his eponymous ensemble. The present-day group reached a new milestone with this concert: the end of a seven-year collaboration with London’s Southbank Centre as Associate Artists. These musicians will be back – the SBC’s artistic director, Jude Kelly, promised as much in a short tribute to the quartet – but this concert marked the end of a particularly close relationship.

The programme touched on works the Takács is known for, and some not. Haydn is an ongoing concern. ‘The Lark’ – the fifth of the Opus 65 set – gave the immediate impression of friends enjoying a convivial conversation. The faster movements enjoyed a natural flow; the slow movement, by contrast, didn’t succeed, because ensemble wasn’t tight enough. Another concern was the loose vibrato of at least three of the players – leader Edward Dusinberre, particularly – which tended to undermine intonation and unity. The finale enjoyed crisper attack, but for all their easygoing charm, the musicians’ collective tics seemed a little out-of-control.

Debussy expressed enthusiastic admiration for Ravel’s sole String Quartet (1905); the Takács Quartet’s performance brought Debussy’s music to mind. The playing was all vaporous textures, as though modelled on the opening moments of La mer. The players explored the first movement with teasing flexibility, lending it the same relaxed atmosphere that had appealed in the Haydn. It was too much reliance on one kind of playing, though: with so much delicacy and so little firmness this reduced Ravel’s palette of colour to a selection of pastels and greys.

To their credit, the Takács musicians adapted their sound to the very different demands of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet (1940). The composer’s peerless understanding of balancing instruments allows the piano and string quartet to exchange gestures without needing to fight each other; nevertheless, Aleksander Madžar impressed by sensitively scaling his playing to the character of the Takács musicians who do not play with the greatest force; indeed, at times their collective volume was positively weedy. Only Geraldine Walther could take on the piano for forcefulness, to the extent that she seemed often to be a poor fit with colleagues. Appropriately, the musicians tackled Shostakovich with less regard for beauty of sound than in the concert’s first half. Madžar, though, was able to inject a greater range of expression. His playing found the nostalgic delicacy characteristic of Shostakovich’s chamber works of this period, although the Takács Quartet was a touch too scruffy and insistent on their quivering vibrato to follow his lead.

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