Music review: Technical clarity, diversity of styles mark Takacs Quartet concert at Union

The Takacs Quartet (kiduck Kim photo)

The Takacs Quartet (kiduck Kim photo)

SCHENECTADY – Capital Region Classical presented its second offering of the season Sunday afternoon at Union College’s Memorial Chapel with the Takacs String Quartet. The concert offered a wide diversity of styles from a group now celebrating its 48th season. It was also the quartet’s seventh appearance on the series.

With a quartet of such venerable experience, the large crowd could expect to hear exceptional playing. In every aspect, they were hugely rewarded.

Violinists Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Andras Fejer were totally focused on finding each composer’s voice even down to altering the tone of the quartet’s sound. And this besides stellar technical clarity, superb musicianship, and fabulous ensemble playing.

They began with Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s only quartet, Quartet in E-flat Major, written in 1834 when she was 29. Fanny was the older sister of Felix, whose fame even at an early age was something she loved but disheartened her because it eclipsed her own exceptional gifts. This quartet showed how marvelous her skills were and what a pleasure the Takacs had in playing it.

The first of four movements began with an Adagio, which the quartet applied a beautiful mellow and pure tone to the lines of longing. The second movement picked up with lighter, sprightly dancing motifs developed in interesting ways to swirling technical passages with strong dynamic shifts. The third had more complex part writing with close harmonies and a kind of passionate plea in the music, and the finale had fast-moving motifs that ranged from lyrical to playful but all with a darker underpinning.

The Takacs was on top of all the technical demands and made it seem easy even when digging in. The audience responded with a “Wow” and applauded loudly.

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Up next was Bela Bartok’s Quartet No. 6. Written in 1939 after his mother had died in Budapest, the four movements seemed very colored by the times and his own grief. The slow opening viola solo, which O’Neill played with deep resonant tones, set the mood. Dark themes, slow and questioning lines, harsh strumming, undulating passages that end in a whisper, a taunting dance and moods that are colored black with slices of scarlet pervade.

Yet, after all this melancholy, anger and resignation, the work ends quietly in a tonal chord of hope.

The technical difficulties and the commitment to achieve all these demands were daunting, but the Takacs was superb on all counts. The audience knew it and responded loudly.

The final work on the program was Ludwig van Beethoven’s Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127 (1823-24) written when the composer was in his mid-50s. Considered one of his late quartets, which are noted for their complexity and difficulty, this has a more traditional classical sound with lovely melodies, straight forward harmonies and exceptional part writing.

The Takacs set a bright, rounded tone from the opening’s wonderfully tonal chords that then moved along with pretty melodies that the players exchanged. The second movement was a light-hearted song with close harmonies that segued into a quick-stepping dance, which was filled with laughter, before returning to its opening moves. The third began with a quiet fugue before moving into a catchy frolic. A short trio in minor key whizzed by and then the frolic returned to end with a tease in which a few silent beats put off the final chord. The audience chortled.

The finale was all happiness with robust exchanges, then violin trills, some odd triplet figures, then the opening theme with dynamic shifts from loud to soft and then the final chord. The crowd cheered, jumped to its feet and loudly applauded. A great job.

The next concert is Sunday, Nov. 6, at 3 p.m. with The Sebastians, an 8-piece Baroque ensemble that includes voice, who are making their series debut.


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