Takács Quartet Recovers After Brief Faltering Start

Clara Shannon

The Takács String Quartet fits right in at Oberlin. The Budapest-founded and Boulder, CO-based ensemble has been acquiring awards — including the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance — since its founding in 1975, and is world-famous for its unique blend of drama, warmth and humor. As such, it’s no surprise that it was welcomed with open arms as part of the Artist Recital Series last Sunday. The quartet performed works by Shostakovich, Webern and Beethoven in an intense and satisfying program that overcame its early missteps for an uplifting conclusion.

Although the quartet takes its name from original first violinist Gábor Takács-Nagy, the only founding members that remain in the ensemble are cellist András Fejér and second violinist Károly Schranz; the other two current members, first violinist Edward Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther, have joined the ensemble since 1993. The quartet has been the recipient of several prestigious awards, including two Gramophone Awards and the 2011 Award For Chamber Music and Song presented by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London. The Takács Quartet was also the first string quartet to be inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame, alongside such classical music icons as Leonard Bernstein and violinist Jascha Heifetz.

Sunday afternoon’s recital in Finney Chapel began with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 68. Surprisingly, the quartet’s approach to the piece felt almost too timid at times, as if the chapel’s size overwhelmed the ensemble’s interpretation of the soft melody. Still, the performance was refined and emotionally complex, with an appealing eerie and mysterious feel.

Dusinberre prefaced the second piece, Webern’s Six Bagatelles for String Quartet, Op.9, with a small speech explaining the difficulty of the preparation that went into rehearsals of the piece. The piece itself was very short — under five minutes — and so complex that an uninformed or inexperienced listener would have trouble understanding its lack of tonality and seemingly arbitrary rhythmic motives. The performance was also marred when audience members left the hall at inappropriate times, creating a distracting stir. Fortunately, the next piece, Five Movements for String Quartet, Op. 5, also by Webern, was, despite its similar level of complexity, markedly more successful in engaging the audience.

The early lull in the performance was fortunately only a temporary slump, though, as the quartet proved with its performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132. The piece propelled the listener through a series of intense emotions, communicated expertly by the experienced quartet. The players seemed extremely connected to one another and to the music, making it easy to lose oneself in its lush harmonies. While the third movement was uncharacteristically long for a string quartet, its simple beauty was captivating.

Although the concert was uneven, the quartet eventually hit its stride, and the program was executed with precision and passion. It wasn’t the best performance Oberlin has seen this year, but when the quartet allowed itself to play with strength and conviction, the effect was impressive, and a fitting end to an impressive season.