Takacs Quartet to play Haydn, Debussy, Beethoven masterworks in Oakland
Even in fields where there are statistical measures, like sports, numbers don't tell the whole story. In the arts, the notion of a “best” is entirely more problematic.
Nevertheless, the Takacs Quartet has long been viewed as being at the top of its field.
“This is chamber music playing of overwhelming intensity ... simply the best I have ever heard in concert,” wrote the critic for The Guardian of London.
“The Takacs might play this repertoire (Beethoven) better than any other quartet in the past or present,” wrote the critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The Takacs Quartet will open the 2014-15 season of Chamber Music Pittsburgh on Sept. 29 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland. It will be the ensemble's ninth appearance for the organization formerly known as Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society.
The program will comprise three masterpieces, starting with Franz Joseph Haydn's String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 64 No. 3.
“This is one of the great quartets, as are most of Haydn's,” says cellist Andras Fejer, one of two founding members of the quartet still active in the group. The other is second violin Karoly Schranz.
“We are constantly giggling and flabbergasted by its quirky twists and turns, in ensemble playing, general rhythms, or harmony and key changes,” Fejer says. “The abundance of characters we can dig into or float through or just generally be surprised by is extremely invigorating and refreshing.”
Claude Debussy's only quartet will follow and provide sharp contrasts. It was written in 1893 and is one of the most original pieces in quartet repertoire.
“Most people assume that Debussy was just a master of ethereal, airy sound. But we find when playing the String Quartet that it's an extraordinarily romantic and sensual work as well,” Fejer says. “We start with the romantic and momentous, gutsy way of playing and then intersperse those ‘special effects' into the music. We feel that's what makes it so fascinating, the give-and-take of those characters.”
Debussy's music was influential for many composers, including Bela Bartok. The Takacs Quartet is renowned for its playing of Bartok, including its recording of the six quartets on Decca. The group also played the cycle in Pittsburgh in February 2005.
“What we found in Bartok, especially in the First Quartet, is a couple of bars in the first movement where we think, OK, this is Ravel or this is Debussy. No wonder. (Bartok) made quite an amalgam of late romanticism, even Bruckner and Brahms,” Fejer says. “There are many traces of these great composers, which pretty much disappear by the Second Quartet.”
The second half of the concert will be given to Ludwig van Beethoven's Quartet in B flat major, Op. 130. Takacs will play it in its original form — which means the Grosse Fuge as the finale.
Friends persuaded Beethoven to compose a shorter finale to the 130, while the Grosse Fugue was subsequently published as the composer's Op. 133.
“We actually play the two finales pretty much 50-50,” Fejer says. “When we start the piece, it's good to know which ending we will be playing.
“The buildup of 130 is already so rich and all-encompassing that it would be a real question how to finish the piece. Then (Beethoven) comes up with this monstrous, titanic struggle and massive energy, almost like black matter.
“Then, there is interspersed the most uplifting and soaring, heavenly tranquility, and then the fight resumes. It builds and builds for 15 minutes until on the last page, the last minute, everything resolves and you simply get goosebumps.”
Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.