By Nancy Plum
Princeton University Concerts opened its 127th season last Thursday night with an old musical friend presenting a free live digital performance launched over YouTube. The Takács Quartet, which has appeared on the PU Concerts series 20 times in the past, broadcast a live performance from Chautauqua Auditorium on the campus of the University of Colorado, Boulder, where the string quartet is based. In Thursday night’s program, violinists Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist András Fejér presented an unusual concert spanning 250 years and including individual movements of some of the ensemble’s favorite works.
The Takács Quartet began the concert with the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose string quartets are popular staples of chamber repertory. Mozart’s 1783 String Quartet No. 15 in D minor showed a strong influence of the composer’s mentor, Franz Josef Haydn, while allowing the four instrumentalists to explore their own musical personalities. The second of six string quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn, this work moved away from Mozart’s chipper major keys to the key of D minor — a harmonic center Mozart reserved for such dark and ominous drama as Don Giovanni and the deathbed Requiem. The Takács players, performing the opening “allegro moderato,” began with a fierce dark character, as cellist Fejér led the ensemble through the opening passages. O’Neill’s viola playing spoke well in the all-wood Chautauqua Auditorium and the Quartet built musical intensity uniformly with dynamic swells well executed throughout the movement.
Like Mozart, the late 19th-century English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died prematurely in his mid-30s but was also prolific as a young composer. While a student at the Royal College of Music, Coleridge-Taylor composed five “character pieces” for string quartet — unusual in that most repertoire for the genre is comprised of larger works. Five Fantasiestücke for String Quartet showed the influence of the Romantic Robert Schumann, with a folk element also heard in the music of Dvorák and Bartók. more