A Magnificent Performance of Op.132 Crowns the Takács Quartet’s Beethoven Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven: Takács Quartet [Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz (violins); Geraldine Walther (viola); András Fejér (cello)]. Wigmore Hall, London, 6.2.2017. (CC)

Beethoven, String Quartet in A, Op.18/5; String Quartet in C minor, Op.18/4; String Quartet in A minor, Op.132

The first quartet to win the Wigmore Medal (2014), the Takács Quartet is “associate artist” of this august hall. It’s only fitting, then, that they are presenting here a cycle of Beethoven Quartets. There were three concerts in this “leg” of the cycle, each including at least one of the Op.18 Quartets.

Quartets Nos. 4 and 5 of Op.18 form a nicely contrasted, if quite long, first half. It was a good idea, too, to put the bright light of A major (No.5) at the outset. The light start was positive but there was just a touch of the lacklustre around Edward Dusinberre’s contributions. Accuracy was faultless from all four players, but there was rather the feeling of settling down. The A Major quartet has a Menuetto as its second movement, here offering a chance for violist Geraldine Walther to shine. It was the slow movement, an Andante cantabile, that offered a chance to appreciate how the Takács as a collective entity can isolate the heart of a quartet. This is a theme and variations on a simple scalic idea, yet how beautifully that idea was shaded here; the Allegro finale came out as a perfectly crafted piece, its pronounced counterpoint natural yet involving.

It was over to Beethoven’s favourite key of C minor for the first half companion piece. Instantly, the intensity was cranked up. Dusinberre was unashamedly expansive here; the music suddenly had space. The central two movements do not offer a slow movement proper; instead, a sonata form Scherzo (marked Andante scherzoso quasi Allegretto and including proper stacatissimi) rubs shoulders with a Menuetto in which the repeat of the Menuet is played at a faster tempo, something that felt like the most natural idea in the world here.  The character of the finale was perfectly judged.

After the interval we heard the 45-minute Op.132. This Quartet, in A minor and dating from 1825, poses huge interpretative challenges; it is arguably the hardest nut to crack of the quartets from Op.127 onwards. The half-voiced Assai sostenuto, with its sudden drops in dynamic level, was beautifully projected: the Takács Quartet is one of the few quartets to fully have the measure of the Wigmore’s acoustic. The palpable feeling of emotional and intellectual struggle that the first movement proper exudes led to tender exchanges in the minuet-like second movement, but it was in the still centre of the famous Heiliger Dankgesang that provided the most profound experience of the evening. Gorgeous stillness, glowing swells, and Dusinberre remarkably sweet in his highest register led gently to a shining climax. Balancing this was the deliberately unsettled March before the energy of the finale brought the piece to fulfilment.

This was a magnificent performance of Op.132, a true crowning of the evening. The Takács Quartet returns to the Wigmore in May to continue their Beethoven cycle with the quartets Opp.18/3, the second “Razumovsky” Quartet and Op.127.

Colin Clarke

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