Award-winning Takács Quartet takes the stage

On Saturday, the Grammy Award-winning Takács String Quartet performed for a full house at Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall. They played a diverse program, which included Beethoven’s “Serioso Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95,” Bartok’s “String Quartet No. 6” and Ravel’s “String Quartet in F Major.”

The quartet opened with the Beethoven, which showcased their intense, fiery ability, as well as their more lyrical aspect. It was an ideal piece to demonstrate their remarkable agility at switching between different moods and levels of intensity.

The first movement began with the opening theme, played fortissimo, and then quickly moved into a more lyrical section. The entire movement featured such quick changes in mood executed with finesse by the quartet. Even in the more relaxed moments, there was always a sense of the tension underscoring the music.

Another one of the most captivating moments came in the fourth movement of the quartet, as the music slowly died down before the final coda. The coda began with quiet fast notes in all four parts, which is not only hard to keep together, but also difficult to carry out musically. The normally animated players began the coda with scarcely any body motion, and played at such a low dynamic that the sense of excitement was amazing as the quartet hurtled towards the final chords.

The second piece on the program, Hungarian composer Bartók’s “String Quartet,” again showcased the quartet’s ability to move quickly between different moods and styles. This selection featured a unique structure in that the first three movements all began with the same introductory material, which was not fully developed until the fourth movement. The main body of the second movement was a raucous march with angular, dotted rhythms and sharp accents. Solos in the cello and first violin were particularly striking. The third movement, a burlesque, was played with a great sense of humor, the players emphasizing the slides and clownish gestures that characterized the movement. The final movement, marked “Mesto” (melancholy), was soulful and lyrical, but with a nervous, unsettled undercurrent that gave the movement a sense of grief and tragedy.

After intermission, the quartet closed the concert with French composer Ravel’s masterpiece, the “String Quartet in F Major.” Within the first moments, the quartet made absolutely clear the level of ensemble necessary to be a world-class string quartet, always remaining perfectly together. In one notoriously difficult duet between the first violin and viola, it felt almost as though the two instruments were improvising in unison.

The second movement, which featured a multitude of fast pizzicatos in strings, sounded brilliant in all of the parts. The slow middle section displayed the group’s warm legato sound and again their knack for creating a tense undercurrent as the music slowly moved back to the main theme.

The slow movement gave the quartet an opportunity to show their broadest and most luxurious sound before launching into the agitated finale, a frantic movement in the unbalanced 5/8 time signature. This was an apt closer to the program, as if all of the underlying tension in the other pieces they played had led up to this explosion of sound. Their intensity was remarkable, considering what a long and difficult program they had assembled. Overall, the quartet’s dexterity at changing moods and their ability to create different emotional layers in the music contributed to a riveting evening of music.

The quartet also gave a master class for student chamber music groups on Sunday, and attended a music theory class on Monday to perform and discuss one of their works. The presence of such an esteemed ensemble on campus attests to the College’s ability to attract world-class performers.