January 25, 2017

Takács String Quartet Continues Beethoven Cycle With Brilliance

The Takács String Quartet returned to Richardson Auditorium at Princeton University last Wednesday night for the third of the ensemble’s six-part journey through the string quartets of Ludwig van Beethoven. Throughout the fall and early winter, Princeton University Concerts has built ancillary educational events around these performances, and as in the previous concerts, the Takács Quartet played to a nearly full house. Also as with other performances in this series, seating in the house was limited to downstairs and onstage, creating a more intimate atmosphere.

The Takács Quartet has built these concerts around pairing quartets from different periods of Beethoven’s life. Published in 1801 and part of Beethoven’s “early” period, the six quartets of Opus 18 date from the composer’s late 20s and are among his first works for this type of ensemble. For Wednesday night’s program, the Takács selected Quartets #4 and #5, two works which although from the same opus showed Beethoven’s progressive compositional thought.

String Quartet in A Major, #5 immediately showed Beethoven’s reverence for Mozart, especially heard in the delicate touch of cellist András Fejér. Violinists Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, together with violist Geraldine Walther, maintained the sprightly and playful nature of the four-movement work, with precise entrances and uniform dramatic flow. Mr. Dusinberre’s playing in the upper register of the violin was particularly clean.

The second movement “Menuetto” revealed spirited interaction between first and second violins, as violist Ms. Walther led the musical action with a clear and well-projected sound. Ms. Walther continually communicated with the other players, pairing with Mr. Fejér in the third movement melodic passages that sounded right out of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The Takács showed its collective attention to detail with the close of Quartet #5, which ended not with the usual Classical exclamation point, but with a graceful and humorous twist.

String Quartet in C Minor, #4 was darker than #5, with dramatic underpinning from the cello and a great deal of musical punctuation from all instruments. The Takács handled well switches from dark to more chipper sections, keeping the music intense and driving in a contained way. A second-movement canon between second violin and viola contained a great deal of articulation and the musicians of the Quartet were uniform in sforzandi within the détachée playing. An intense “Menuetto” contrasted with a very Viennese “Allegretto,” and the fourth movement closed the work in rondo form, with each refrain played more fiercely than the one before.

Dating from the last few years of Beethoven’s life, String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132 was a polar opposite from Opus 18 in structure, harmonic language, and internal contrast. The character of the work’s slow introduction was instantly contrary to earlier Beethoven works, as the movement shifted moods frequently, finally settling into a somewhat typical Classical style. An intricate and well-played dialog between violins and viola/cello marked the second movement, with an elegant duet between violinists Mr. Dusinberre and Mr. Schranz that recalled the Baroque sequential style of Vivaldi. The Takács Quartet played the languid melodies of the chorale-like third movement with rich intensity, rarely lifting their bows from the strings. Mr. Schranz provided a particularly luxuriant sound in the lower register of the Violin II part. Like many of Beethoven’s late works, Opus 132 contained a great deal of contrasts and divergences, both among and within movements, and the Takács Quartet emphasized these well as they brought the work and concert to a joyous close.

The next performance in the Complete Beethoven String Quartet Cycle will be on Wednesday, March 15 at 8 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium. The Quartet will play pieces from Opus 18, Opus 135, and Opus 59. For information call (609) 258-9220 or visit www.tickets.princeton.edu.