Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: Takács Quartet

April 20, University of Richmond

The Takács Quartet’s recorded cycle of the Beethoven string quartets has been widely rated as a reference version since the discs were released between 2002 and 2004.

Some of the same qualities that have gratified record collectors – a middle-of-the-road interpretive stance that stood up to repeated hearings, warm-blooded collective tone that made room for felicitous details from individual players – characterized the ensemble’s performances of three of the quartets in a return engagement at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center.

The Takács – violinists Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist András Fejér – sampled early, middle and late Beethoven, playing the quartets in B flat major, Op. 18, No. 6, and F major, Op. 135, in the first half of the program, and the third “Razumovsky” Quartet, in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, after intermission.

The later quartets lent themselves more readily to the Takács’ expansive, room-filling sound and borderline-romantic mode of expression. The foursome’s long lyrical arc in the slow movement of Op. 135 and pacing of the slow movement of Op. 59, No. 3 – almost Mahlerian in its scale – were perhaps the most rewarding performances in the program.

Dusinberre’s quasi-cadenza in the opening movement of the “Razumovsky” was a rare burst of solo brilliance. Elsewhere, the Takács emphasized consistent, concentrated ensemble sound, exploring gradations of dynamics – how many degrees of mezzoforte can these musicians produce? – and playing with a tonal weight reminiscent of the Budapest and Guarneri quartets in their primes.

I’ve heard the playful Beethoven – of the first movement of Op. 18, No. 6, for example – played more playfully, and the energetic finale of Op. 59, No. 3, played more speedily, than they were in this performance. There were times, especially in the early quartet, when I would have preferred a leaner, more focused tone.

But very few string quartets at work today have this music as securely in hand. The Takács has a clear, long-considered notion of how Beethoven quartets should sound, and makes a compelling case for its approach.