HAYDN String Quartet in C, “The Bird.” SCHUBERT String Quartet in d, “Death and the Maiden.” BEETHOVEN String Quartet in F, “Razumovsky” • Takács Qrt • DECCA B0007358-09 (DVD: 124:00)
& Film, Introducing theRead more Takács Quartet; intros to each work by quartet members
In a feature article in Fanfare 30:2, James Reel rightly praised the Takács Quartet’s “Death and the Maiden” on Hyperion. Here they are on Decca in the lush and beautiful setting of Hopetoun House (near Edinburgh, Scotland). Each of the quartets is preceded by a filmed set of comments by members of the quartet. Although interesting for one viewing, it is with the quartet performances themselves that the interest really lies. Note that the Decca DVD includes violist Roger Tapping, while the Hyperion disc mentioned above boasts newest member Geraldine Walther.
The pre-performance discussion of the Haydn is interesting in that it identifies the second violin and the viola as destabilizing elements. It is this sense of play with the listener’s expectations that is at the heart of Haydn’s score, and it is this that provides much of its delight, at a slightly deeper experiential level than the more surface chirruping. The interaction of the fun chirping (is it purposeful that the camera flits around, bird-like, on occasion, too?) and more complex harmonic workings seems to lie at the heart of the Takács’s interpretation, and it is this interpretative layering that gives the performance such richness. If the aviary of the Scherzo’s trio is ultra-sweet, it is so to offset the movement’s shadowy shiftings. The highlight of the performance, though, is the Adagio, where concentration reaches its climax; the bouncy finale clears the air.
This Decca version of “Death and the Maiden” is just as fine as the Hyperion version mentioned above—indeed, some aspects are even more convincing. There are huge contrasts contained within the first movement. The Takács’s first statement is deliberately raw; the ensuing chords, ultrasmooth. On a rhythmic level, this is very reined in, so that cantabile contrasts remain firmly fixed within the context of the opening’s emotional turmoil. In this way, Schubert’s harmonic explorations feel just right, mirroring the feeling of unrest evinced by constantly repeated accompanimental fragments. Close-ups of each player in turn at the beginning of the slow movement show concentration etched equally on each of the four players’ faces. Their playing invokes a sense of space that is so integral to Schubert slow movements—even more so than in the Hyperion version. Edward Dusinberre’s first violin is really quite throaty in its lower registers, but appropriately sweet up top. Dusinberre says in the filmed commentary re the last movement that “it shouldn’t feel remotely safe,” and there is certainly the feeling of it living on a knife-edge. Towards the end, the camera pans around the room, finally fixing on a painting, to me a rather superfluous gesture.
The Takács’s “Razumovsky” Decca recordings are justly famous. It is Dusinberre again whose comments seem consistently right on the money, especially his statements about long-range preparation of sforzandos. The discussion focuses on the modernism of the first “Raz,” rightly so, and the performance itself reflects this. The Takács begins the work in the most lyrical fashion imaginable, beautifully balanced, but it is equally obvious that the members relish the more extrovert passages. Instrumental interplay is astonishingly natural and there is never any doubting the players’ virtuosity. The shot of the ceiling and the slow camera descent to the quartet that accompanies the opening of the slow movement has lost its appeal over several viewings, but the Takács’s concentrated dedication and beauty of sound has not. In particular, Dusinberre’s pleading gestures make great effect. The marking here is Adagio molto e mesto; the sadness is expressed as emptiness and loneliness. It is a difficult space to inhabit in this performance, almost as if the players are deliberately seeing signposts to late Beethoven. The “Thème russe” of the finale creeps in, not quite like a breath of fresh air; it is clear there is much emotional work to be done (listen to the cello trill underlying the first violin’s statement of the theme, pregnant with energy).
These are superb readings that complement the more famous sound-only accounts by this quartet. The 29-minute bonus film includes valuable footage of the Takács playing Bartók’s Fourth Quartet, again in Hopetoun House (they have just recorded them all, says Tapping), accounts of difficulties of changes of quartet personnel, and background details of the players’ musical lives.
Franz Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 Death and June 2, 2012By Luke Bryant (Oakleigh South, Victoria)See All My Reviews"It is widely known that in 1823 Frantz Schubert was seriously ill with a serious flare-up of tertiary stage syphilis; he was hospitalized in May that year and penniless following a ruinous publication arrangement with Diabelli regarding the issue of a group of Schuberts works. In a letter to a friend, Schubert wrote, "Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better. Think, I say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship is but torture, and whos enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing; and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy." Schuberts Death and the Maiden the String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, composed in 1824, is his obvious testament to death, heard in all four movements and remains one of the finest compositions from the extensive chamber music repertoire of the many composers. The quartet was first played in 1826 in a private home, but sadly passed over in Schuberts lifetime and not published until 1831, three years after his death but today the quartet has become a staple of the quartet repertoire.
I have been a classical music concert goer from long ago youthful years however; I do not play any musical instrument so the professional requirements of musicians at the Takacs Quartet level sadly escape me. Now at a much older, hopefully more mature age, it is because of the high technical quality of todays CDs, SACDs and DVDs that I remain an astute listener in search of whatever it is that great music and technical achievement gives to a persons emotional and spiritual makeup, therefore I will not redraft, only recommend Colin Clarkes splendid report, published above from FANFARE, except to confirm, the Schubert Quartet is a superb reading with fine camera work detailing each musicians concentrated playing. The DVD also includes outstanding performances of the Beethovens Quartet for Strings no 7 in F major, Op. 59 no 1 "Razumovsky" and Haydns Quartet for Strings in C major, Op. 33 no 3/H 3 no 39 "Bird". Three compositions recorded in the magnificent country estate of Hopetoun House Scotland, with a bonus documentary containing important footage of the Takács playing Bartóks Fourth Quartet.
Two hours of heartfelt, highly concentrated deeply emotional music, plus a 29 minute introduction to the Takács Quartet. Video format: 16.9, DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, highly recommended.
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