Takacs Quartet starts the fall season with near perfect program, beautifully played.

Music by Mozart, Bartók and Dvořák will be repeated tonight

By Peter Alexander Sept. 9 at 1:05 a.m.

Last night (Sept. 8) the Takacs Quartet began the 2019–20 season of major classical music events in Boulder with a near-perfect program: three truly great pieces of music, of contrasting periods and styles, offering different demands to the performers.

03-Takacs-Quartet-Amanda-Tipton-photography

Takács Quartet. Photo by Amanda Tipton,

As mixed programs often do, it began with music from the classical period: Mozart’s String Quartet in C major K465, one of his greatest works. Known as the “Dissonance” Quartet from the chromatic harmonies of the slow introduction, it does not sound particularly dissonant to ears that have heard Wagner and Schoenberg—not to mention Berio and Boulez.

The Takacs took their cue for their interpretation from the cheerful and engaging music that comes after the slow introduction, which they played in a straightforward way. Where some performers prefer to wring all the drama and angst they can from the harmonies, the Takacs takes a more matter-of-fact approach that fits well with all the music that follows. This interpretation makes the quartet comfortably enjoyable, but it risks missing the real challenge that Mozart’s harmonies, extreme for their time, would have posed to his audiences.

Mozart was followed by the Fourth Quartet of Bartók, one of the great works of the early 20thcentury. So well does this work distill all of the core elements of Bartók’s style, it can (and has done) serve for a whole course on the composer. After a brief and witty spoken introduction by first violinist Ed Dusinberre, who outlined the key structural features of the quartet’s five movements, the Takacs players launched into a driven, compelling reading of the quartet.

This is music that requires great energy and rhythmic command, and the Takacs provided that in spades. Thematic relationships that bind the quartet and its symmetrical form together were clearly audible, not buried in the complex textures. The devilish fourth movement conveyed all the wit inherent in Bartók’s headlong, propulsive pizzicato, even if the players were momentarily revealed to be human, after all. The final movement delivered the wild party that Dusinberre promised, ending the quartet with a wonderful flourish straight out of the first movement.

The final piece on the program was Dvořák’s String Quartet in F major, op. 96, known as the “American” Quartet. Written during an idyllic summer in Spillville, Iowa, it one of the composer’s most delightful and perfect works. This is music that smiles.

1893.Panorama1

Spillville, Iowa, in 1893, the year of Dvořák’s visit.

As pure music it is thoroughly enjoyable, but for those who know the Spillville legends, the evocation of the open, empty spaces of the American prairie—which Dvořák found to be “sad unto despair”—in the second movement, the quotation of the Scarlet Tanager’s song in the third, and the sound of the organ that Dvořák played in church every morning during the summer in the third movement, the deep nostalgia of the music becomes all the more meaningful.

Once again the Takacs shifted gears to capture the melded American/Bohemian qualities of Dvořák’s most American work, a piece that revels in the countryside and displaced Bohemians Dvořák found in Iowa as well as his love for the countryside and people of his homeland. Written in the open air of the prairie, the music came from deep within Dvořák’s soul. The Takacs’ performance was exemplary.

In fact, it was a joy to hear the whole concert, from first note to last. The Takacs revealed the individuality and character of all three works.

The program will be repeated tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Grusin Music Hall. Limited tickets are available here.

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