The Takács Quartet

(Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violins;
Geraldine Walther, viola; András Fejér, cello).

At the Marjorie Luke Theatre, Friday, July

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

It was a hot, airless night. In the heavy darkness of Marjorie
Luke, the inadequate air-conditioning sent an occasional wisp of
coolness across the back of my neck or over my knuckles — just
enough to make me conscious of how uncomfortable I was.

It takes a special kind of gift to devise a program as tedious
as this, particularly the first half. The regular faculty of the
Music Academy could never have come close — they had to import a
guest ensemble to do it. Think, for instance, of having to sift
through Mozart’s 26 string quartets to find the one with no
memorable melodies, and then to follow it with a quartet by
Benjamin “Tuneless Ben” Britten. That takes talent. The Takács
Quartet has been together for 31 years, and they have a polished,
seamless sound. They are all fine musicians, and their performance
was as smooth as whipped cream on velvet.

Of all the logistical and musical difficulties confronting
composers of string quartets and the ensembles that play them, one
overshadows the rest. It is the problem of perfection, of the
closed circle. This is music written for the private entertainment
of musicians. The ideal audience consists of two violinists, a
violist, and a cellist.

The problem for performers, when you are not in your living room
but playing in front of several hundred people, is opening up to
let the audience in. This is partly a matter of repertoire, and
partly a matter of the individual musicians’ imagination. The
Takács Quartet, and this is completely my personal opinion, is
deficient on both sides of the equation.

Now, Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet, which concluded
the evening, was far and away the most engaging piece on the
program, but the Takács’s performance of it, while letter perfect,
revealed the paucity of their collective imagination. Like most of
Schubert’s works in larger classical forms, this quartet is
architecturally incoherent, but it is one of the most dramatic
things he ever wrote. Alas, the Takács had used up all its
histrionic tricks on the pseudo-profundities of the Britten, and
they had no power left to put into the Schubert, which came off
anemic and half-hearted.


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