From Takács, a vivid reading of quartet tradition
The Takács Quartet’s concert on Friday had a defiantly retro feel, at least in comparison with the kind of high-concept thematic programming increasingly prevalent in classical music performance. (Indeed, the group has shown aptitude for such programming — on its last visit to Boston, it explored the Hungarian folk roots of Bela Bártok.) This season’s offering was, instead, a well-curated selection from across the long quartet tradition, a dialogue between historical repertoires.
The opener, in a way, told the quartet’s own origin story: Joseph Haydn’s D-major Quartet, Op. 71, No. 2, was one of a half-dozen quartets composed in 1793, the first such works expressly intended for public performance rather than private music-making. Haydn’s razzle-dazzle — a symphonic-style slow introduction, intricate counterpoint designed less as interesting byplay and more as impressive collective fluidity — was tossed off with flair, marked by the Takács’s particular makeup: The inner parts are, in many ways, more extroverted than the outer. Second violinist Károly Schranz tended toward sharp-edged bowing, a firmly enunciated rhetoric; violist Geraldine Walther showed off a big sound and expansive phrasing. Surrounded by first violinist Edward Dusinberre’s elegant, lean brightness and cellist András Fejér’s smooth warmth, it produced energy that percolated from the center. The group eschewed homogeneity, letting the buzz of distinct personalities predominate.
Given the group’s Hungarian roots, the inclusion of a Bártok quartet was not unexpected; but the composer’s String Quartet No. 3 glanced off the Haydn with both contrast and complementarity, a concentrated bustle of conversation. If Bártok’s quartets are a gateway drug to atonal modernism — distinct contours and thrashing energy hung on intricate intellectual scaffolding — the Third Quartet is an exceptionally pure dose. The reading had a rich intensity, Bártok’s tightly-wound counterpoint and special effects integrated into a dark, dissonant swirl.
Both poles of the first half — the birth of the quartet as audience edification, the modernist frisson of challenging audience expectations — came together in the second, devoted to Franz Schubert’s final quartet, the massive, exotic G-major Quartet, D. 887. The piece orbits its key at often precipitously fluctuating speed and distance, a grand, picaresque epic of sharp turns and profuse, striking detail. The players’ varied characters kept the texture crackling with electricity. Schubert’s long haul, its strain on stamina, proved a vivid, illuminating journey.
Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.