Celebrated Beethoven and Exploratory Mozart from the Takacs

CanadaCanada Beethoven and Mozart: Takacs Quartet (Edward Dusinberre and Karoly Schrantz, violins; Geraldine Walther, viola; Andras Fejer, cello), with Erica Eckert, second viola; Vancouver Playhouse, Vancouver, BC, 9.12.14 (GN)

Beethoven: String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 130
Mozart: String Quintet in G minor, K 516

Long-standing annual visits by the Takacs Quartet have provided a wonderful stream of illumination, in core repertory from Haydn through Dvorak, a superlative Beethoven cycle, and more recently the quartets of Benjamin Britten. Nonetheless, there has been one composer that has been notably missing, and that is Mozart; it was just last year that we were able to see a performance of his “Hunt” Quartet. As it turned out, the interpretation often stressed rhythmic punctuations in the spirit of Haydn—this is one of Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets”—while the feeling of the Adagio moved much deeper, perhaps to the same inner reaches found in the slow movements of Haydn’s profound Op.76 quartets or in Mozart’s sublime later string quintets. The current concert actually featured the famous G-minor Quintet, K516, the companion to the composer’s two G-minor symphonies—works all identified with his deepest and most tragic output.

The Takacs’ reading of Beethoven’s Op. 130 has long received accolades, not least when it was issued in the ensemble’s 2005 Decca set of “Late Quartets,” and is known for its  angularity as well as its illuminating integration of all Beethoven’s complex and fragmented utterances. I liked this current performance even more than its predecessors. It was perhaps less terse and uncompromising but it captured its underlying emotional flow even more surely. There was an increased sense of wonder in the opening movement, but also a greater foreboding darkness, successfully combining both with its tensile strength and establishing a more complex range of emotions and colour. The middle movements provided telling hints of the composer’s emotional instability, eventually showing a world where any trace of serenity vanishes. Then, the Cavatina: burnished, noble, flowing and subtle, never flinching from its message from beginning to end. A buoyant and strongly detailed finale provided organic unity.

It was interesting to hear this performance just ten days after the young Doric Quartet had given a very fresh and attractive interpretation of the same piece. I am still taken by the Doric’s work, but it only took a minute or two to recognize how much more serious and ‘big’ the Takacs are, having considerably stronger instrumental voicing and sinew. Perhaps there is little room for charm or tender intimacy in this work, but the Dorics found it in many places, and their Cavatina was particularly moving.

Imagine, for a minute, that the Takacs Quartet took salient features of their approach to late Beethoven and applied them to the Mozart G-minor quintet. Until this concert, I had never really thought of this possibility, having never regarded late Mozart and late Beethoven as comparable objects. Yet the inner detailing, the rhythmic tightness, and the raw strength of the viola projections in the opening movement suggested this to some degree. The sforzandi of the following Minuet were unusually strong—like daggers thrown down, followed by an empty still. And, yes, I could feel touches of late Beethoven (or even later) in the two Adagios, which had a very 19-century projection in the outpourings of first violinist Edward Dusinberre. All very intriguing but there was something missing. Despite greater dynamic projection, with more obviously ‘romantic’ expressions of tragic feeling, there wasn’t really a moment-to-moment tragic ‘story’ that unfolded with intimacy, fluidity, and inevitability. In fact, I found the Takacs often tended to be emotionally uniform, not picking up the many quicksilver changes that are so important to the Mozartian narrative. Part of this might have been that the admirable Dusinberre was, at least on this evening, somewhat too generalized in his expression.

It is far from unintelligent to consider a larger, more structural reading of this quintet, but perhaps I am spoiled by the classic performances of Arthur Grumiaux and friends, the Talich Quartet and the Griller Quartet, which are so disarmingly strong in Mozartian credentials that they are difficult to forget. Their lightness and buoyancy, always intertwined with a tragic, often veiled, inner voice, makes their readings fluid, cohesive, and overwhelming. How is it that so much celestial radiance and beauty can be this tragic? In the finale, the Takacs carried on their approach with consistency, but I found the phrasing somewhat too clipped, with too many accents. A longer legato line and more pliability of texture and phrase would have created a more interesting journey—up the mountains and down the valleys—to an eventual resting place.

Geoffrey Newman

Previously published in a slightly different for on http://www.vanclassicalmusic.com

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