Programs include Haydn, Shostakovich, Dvořák, Schumann, Mendelssohn
By Peter Alexander March 4 at 1:25 p.m.
COVID-19 is, momentarily, receding, and the Takács Quartet is back to a full performing schedule.
They had to cancel several concert tours over the past two years, but not in 2022. “We just came home from Princeton, Berkeley and Los Angeles,” the group’s cellist, András Fejér, explains. “And now we will go to New York, Sarasota, Los Angeles and San Francisco.”
Around and between those trips, they have their usual concerts on the CU campus: music by Haydn, Shostakovich and Dvořák March 6 and 7; and music by Schumann performed with pianist David Korevaar, and Mendelssohn with the CU graduate quartet in residence, the Ivalas Quartet, April 10 and 11 (see performance details below).
Except for the interruption caused by the pandemic, touring is a normal part of life for the Takács Quartet. “It’s a nice chugging-along routine,” Fejér says. “We just say we would love to tour, say, 10 days each month in the States, and that gives us enough time to rehearse and teach and rest a little.” They also make longer tours every year to Europe and Asia, all arranged through their agents.
Like the Takács now, Haydn had just returned from touring in 1796, in his case home to Vienna from two trips to London. Upon his return, an aristocratic patron commissioned a set of six quartets, published a few years later as Op. 76. These works are considered the pinnacle of Haydn’s quartet composition.
The Fourth Quartet of the set, known as the “Sunrise Quartet,” opens the Takacs’s March concerts—but Fejér wants you to know that Haydn is not “just a warmup piece” for the rest of the program. “I mean, the guy invented the (string quartet)!” he says. “We are just in awe—(playing his music) is a constant wonderment. Even familiar pieces, we try to dig deeper. We always try to give his music justice.”
Likewise, Dvořák wrote his G major String Quartet, the final piece on the program, soon after returning home from his years in America. It is considered one of the composer’s most profoundly expressive quartets, particularly the meditative slow movement.
The quartet has enjoyed exploring Dvořák ‘s score. “It’s fascinating for us,” Fejér says. “Its scope is unprecedented, in length and orchestration. Most of the time it sounds totally symphonic. He goes left and right and returns—just totally unpredictable and delightful. We love it.”
Between Haydn and Dvořák, the Takács will play Shostakovich’s Eleventh Quartet. Written in memory of a violinist with the Beethoven Quartet, which was long associated with Shostakovich’s music, the Eleventh Quartet is an austere work that uses the instruments sparingly. It’s seven movements are anything but cheerful, but as Fejér says, with Shostakovich “cheerful is not the first description which would come to mind.
“I’m always amazed about the simplicity of his motifs. How such simple notes can work in mysterious ways on the audience is unbelievable. You cannot put together a more simple music and somehow the effect on audiences is mesmerizing. I notice it every time.”
For the April concerts the quartet has programmed two pieces, each of which includes invited guests. First they will be joined by pianist David Korevaar to perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet. Written in 1842 and dedicated by the composer to his wife, Clara, it is the first major quintet written for piano and string quartet.
Schumann alternates between intimate passages that feature conversational exchanges among the five instruments, and nearly symphonic passages that feature the four strings together against the piano. At a time when chamber performances were first moving into the concert hall, Schumann helped create the model for the quintets that followed by Brahms, Dvořák and Franck, all destined for the concert hall.
The April program concludes with another piece that had no precedent, the Octet for Strings, which the Takács will play with the members of the Ivalas Quartet. Like the Schumann Quintet, the combination of instruments was unprecedented when Mendelssohn wrote the Octet at the age of 17, and it’s one of the most magical pieces to come out of the Romantic era. “It’s such an adrenalin rush (to play it),” Fejér says.
“It’s wonderful and makes you humble all over again. Comparing what most of us had been doing at 17, it’s even more impressive.”
Fejér gives two reasons that he is looking forward to playing the Octet. First, he says, “we love playing with additional people because the function of our individual instruments is different from a string quartet. I’m not playing as much bass line as I usually do, (and) I enjoy the different role very much.”
The second reason is the opportunity to share the stage with the their students in the Ivalas Quartet. “It is their final month in April at CU of their three years, and we loved working with them,” Fejér says.
“We look forward very much to have fun with capital letters with this Mendelssohn Octet!”
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- Haydn: String Quartet in B-flat Major. op.76 no. 4 (“Sunrise”)
- Shostakovich: String Quartet Nr.11, op.122
- Dvořák: String Quartet No. 13 in G-major, op.106
4 p.m. Sunday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Monday, March 7
Grusin Music Hall
Takács Quartet and guests
- Schumann: Quintet for piano and strings in E-flat major, op. 44
With David Korevaar, piano
- Mendelssohn Octet for Strings in E-flat major, op. 2
With the Ivalas Quartet
4 p.m. Sunday, April 10
7:30 p.m. Monday, April 11
Grusin Music Hall
NOTE: Digital tickets are available for both programs