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S & H Recital Review

Bartók, Beethoven Takács Quartet, Wigmore Hall, 1pm, Monday, May 10th, 2004 (CC)



No stranger to awards for their recording activities, for this lunchtime concert the Takács presented two composers with whom they are very much associated. The Takács’ recording of the Bartók Quartets won the 1998 Gramophone Award for Chamber Music, while their recording of Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets and Op. 74 won the same award in 2002. Home turf, then, for this coupling.

Bartók’s Third Quartet (1927) is remarkable for its concentration of utterance within its short time-span (just under 1/4 of an hour, here). The first thing to strike the listener is the quality of the Takács’ pianissimo. Rapt, massively tonally expressive within the dynamic, it had the capacity Wigmore audience sitting in complete silence. Warm and highly emotive, it set up the basic ground for these performances: a technical excellence that followed Bartók’s instructions perfectly. Diminuendi were perfectly controlled; fortes were raw when appropriate, yet legato could be the sweetest of unbroken lines when necessary, too. When the world of folk music did surface in the melodic material, it was given its full weight, and when the music danced it was infectious. Accents were biting where appropriate; the quartet’s control was miraculous. One can hear how this quartet is immersed in this repertoire. For them, it is as natural as breathing. For sure, this lunchtime must have won this piece some new friends.

Doubtful if Beethoven’s Op. 127 needs to win any friends. Its status as a masterwork is fully acknowledged, and to it the Takács brought a fruitful mix of youthful impetuosity and mature consideration - no easy balancing act. The hyper-rich tone they brought to the opening seemed in marked contrast to the Bartók, almost as if inviting the audience in, leading us gently to the easy lyricism of the Allegro. The playful element inherent in this work was fully (and delightfully) brought out. Only a fairly uniform roundness of tone threatened to iron out the contrasts; yet one was constantly astonished by their careful consideration of the score.

The Adagio, one of Beethoven’s beloved (and extended) variation movements, was marked by more of the concentration that flowed through the Bartók. As the instruments entered one by one, the sense of withdrawal was palpable (the technical security, in itself breathtaking, was secondary). As movement was gently introduced, the sheer scope of terrain became staggering, from the cheeky, almost dancing to the near stasis of the close. This set of five variations spoke as a single expression of inspiration.

It was characteristic of the Takács that there was no let-up of intensity for the Scherzando vivace (magnificently effective fragmenting of material at the end). But it was the autumnal glow of the finale, a joyous, almost bucolic contrast that brought the world of the ‘Pastoral’ symphony to mind, that was perhaps most impressive, and certainly most life-enhancing. The perfect close to a memorable recital.

Colin Clarke

Recommended Recordings by the Takács Quartet:

Beethoven Razumovsky String Quartets, Decca 470 847-2

Bartók String Quartets 455 297-2


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