Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hyperion already has cornered the market with its roster of top pianists, and with this release the label looks about ready to do so with string quartets as well. This is the first in what promises to be an exciting collaboration with the Takács Quartet, lately of Decca, and since 2005 with a new violist in the person of Geraldine Walther, a splendid player who will be familiar to some discophiles as the former principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony (she recorded Hindemith's Trauermusik under Blomstedt). On evidence here, the new partnership is operating in top form.
There is no shortage of excellent recordings of these two marvelous quartets, but this newcomer
stands confidently with the very best. The players take great pains to differentiate the two works, both in minor keys but otherwise so different in mood. "Death and the Maiden" is frighteningly intense in its outer movements, with driving rhythms and a real feeling of danger, of music making "on the edge" in the concluding tarantella. In this context, the Andante comes as a positive relief from the unremitting tension.
"Rosamunde" offers intensity of a different sort. The quartet's opening seldom has exuded such a powerfully melancholic atmosphere as it does in this performance; you can really sense the anguish below the outwardly placid surface. This gentler piece requires the players to make their points less obviously, and in particular to distinctly characterize the second, third, and fourth movements, which all last about the same time and move in a moderate basic tempo. You won't hear it better done than on this recording, with the Andante beautifully sustained and the Minuet (the longest of the three movements) graciously flowing and elegantly poised.
The presence of Ms. Walther hasn't significantly altered the characteristic sound of the Takács Quartet. They still play with that vibrant, "stringy" tone in forte passages, less smooth than, say, that of the Prazák or the great Czech quartets. Maybe it's a Hungarian thing. In any case, it gives their performances a touch of raw energy that never compromises good timbre--and they still have one of the silkiest and most beautifully balanced pianissimos in the business. Hyperion's sonics do them proud. Music lovers have much to enjoy, and much to look forward to in this and future releases. [12/4/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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