Takács Quartet by Keith Saunders - Friends of Chamber Music
Photo by Keith Saunders

Takács Quartet – Season 66

July 7, 2016

Sunday, December 1, 2013
Vancouver Playhouse 3:00 pm
This concert is generously sponsored by Mr. Eric Wyness

Edward Dusinberre – violin
Károly Schranz – violin
Geraldine Walther – viola
András Fejér – cello

Recognized as one of the world’s great ensembles, the Takács Quartet plays with a unique blend of drama, warmth and humor, combining four distinct musical personalities to bring fresh insights to the string quartet repertoire.

In 2012, Gramophone Magazine announced that the Takács was the only string quartet to be inducted into its first Hall of Fame, along with such legendary artists as Jascha Heifetz, Leonard Bernstein and Dame Janet Baker. The ensemble won the 2011 Award for Chamber Music and Song presented by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London. Based in Boulder at the University of Colorado, the Takács Quartet performs ninety concerts a year, in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea.”

Appointed in 2012 as the first-ever Associate Artists at Wigmore Hall in London, the Takács present six concerts per season there. Other European engagements include performances in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Musikverein in Vienna, and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The Quartet’s many award-winning recordings include the Beethoven cycle, Bartók cycle, quartets by Haydn, Schumann, Brahms and Britten on Decca and Hyperion. The most recent, a recording of Britten’s quartets, received a review in the Guardian, calling this a “superb recording,” adding “the quartet offer the best possible guide to the music’s beauty and complexity.”

The Takács Quartet was formed in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest by Gabor Takács-Nagy, Károly Schranz, Gabor Ormai and András Fejér, while all four were students. After winning many prizes and many concerts in Europe, in 1982 the Quartet made their first North American tour, including a Vancouver concert for the Friends of Chamber Music. Violinist Edward Dusinberre joined the Quartet in 1993 and violist Geraldine Walther joined in 2005.

In 2001 the Takács Quartet was awarded the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross of the Republic of Hungary, and in March of 2011 each member of the Quartet was awarded the Order of Merit Commander’s Cross by the President of the Republic of Hungary.

The Takács Quartet is represented by Seldy Cramer Artists.

Programme

Quartet in B flat major, K458 “Hunt” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Allegro vivace assai
Menuetto moderato
Adagio
Allegro assai

Quartet K458 is the fourth of a series of six called the “Haydn quartets” because Mozart dedicated them to his fellow composer. The two composers played together in string quartets, and Haydn considered Mozart to be the greatest composer he knew. The K458 quartet of 1784, called “the Hunt” because of its suggestion of a hunting horn in its main theme, is textually rich and gives evidences of Mozart’s playfulness throughout. The K458, like his other quartets of the six, owes a stylistic debt to the 24-years-older Haydn, master of the quartet form. Nevertheless, Mozart, through his innate craftsmanship and grasp of form, significantly changed the direction of the string quartet. These six quartets were among the many and varied masterpieces composed during the turbulent last nine years of Mozart’s life, beset as he was with financial problems. The quartet K458 is one of Mozart’s most sublime compositions.

Bouncy and intimate, this is a huntingexpedition on the living room carpet, yet the joyful interchanges make it difficult to resist.Like its companions, the K458 quartet is cast in four movements. The jaunty opening of the Allegro vivace assai features the famous hunting call, a subject that lends itself to all manner of contrapuntal treatment. There is no formal second theme but capricious play is made with all the little snippets of the main theme. An unusually elaborate coda, utilizing many contrapuntal devices, is preceded by a repetition of the development section.

The Menuetto is a brief movement with moments of gentle humor. Deliberately antique and stiff, it has very little of the character of a dance. In contrast, the trio section moves with a more light-footed grace.

The Adagio that follows is all glowing fervour and deep sentiment. It is dominated by a long, decorated theme in the first violin and a quietly eloquent dialogue between violin and cello.

The final Allegro assai, full of enthusiasm sometimes verging on violence, returns to the opening movement’s mood of good-humored ease. It features a happy combination of delightful Mozartian roguishness and Haydnesque humour. The main theme is adapted from an old folk song.

String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17 Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Moderato
Allegro molto capriccioso
Lento

This quartet was completed in 1917 at a time when Bartók was experimenting with Hungarian and Romanian folk music and dance rhythms. By this time, he had composed the opera the ballet The Wooden Prince, and the Allegro Barbaro for piano.

In the first movement, the first violin presents the germ motif which will be recognized again when heard in imitation at the poco piu mosso which follows the tranquillo. The second subject is a lilting melodic line consisting of a succession of descending thirds, heard first in the viola and answered later by the cello. A suggestion of the influence of Debussy is apparent in the use of organum where parallel fifths occur in the cello just after the tranquillo. The coda wavers between the major and minor with many changes of tempo and dynamics.

The second movement is a type of rondo with episodes in the form of variations on the principal theme. The texture is relatively plain and economical with frequent use of octave doublings. It is really a series of Magyar dances in various tempi. The style is predominantly homophonic, with the exception of a simple slurred phrase, which is treated imitatively just before the Allegro molto in three-quarter time. A characteristic motif is the D, E, F sharp, which gives a feeling of conflict between major and minor. After some powerful double-stopped chords interspersed with rests, the coda begins con sordini (with mutes) in six-four time played prestissimo and finishes in a slower tempo with fortissimo octaves.

The Lento is a short movement of introspective character. The harsh effect of the clash of semitones at the beginning is softened by the use of mutes. The thematic material consists mostly of fragments. Not until the Lento assai does a coherent, though rather square-cut, phrase emerge harmonized in fourths.

Intermission

String Quartet in A minor, Opus 132 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Assai sostenuto – Allegro
Allegro ma non tantoo
Molto adagio – Andante
Alla marcia, assai vivace – Allegro appassionato

Beethoven composed this quartet at the behest of a nobleman, Prince Galitzin, in the winter of 1824-1825. While working on the quartet, Beethoven became seriously ill, but he was able to complete it by July 1825. The first performance was given in Vienna on September 19th, 1825. Originally planned as a quartet in the traditional four movements, Beethoven decided to replace the two middle movements with three movements including the central “Song of Thanksgiving”. He had never before written such a deeply anguished composition.

The quartet starts with a slow introductory motif similar to the openings of the quartets Opus 131 and the Grosse Fuge, Opus 133. Emerging from the opening section is a brilliant violin flourish which leads to the main theme, played high in the register by the cello. This is followed by a new idea starting with three repeated notes, which lead to a flowing melody in the second violin over an agitated triplet accompaniment.

Wistful and nostalgic, the second movement has two motifs that run right through the opening section: the first, a pair of rising three-note figures, and the second, a long note that drops down with a little flurry of faster notes. The middle section is a sort of musette with the first violin sustaining a bagpipe-like drone under the higher pitched melody. The movement ends with a repeat of the opening section.

The extraordinary third movement, inscribed “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent in the Lydian mode”, is a sublime hymn of gratitude for the return of good health. The use of the Lydian mode, an ancient ecclesiastical scale, gives the music a spiritual tone. The movement contains two contrasting sections: a chorale-like prayerful passage and a more vigorous contrasting second section as, according to the annotation, the invalid “feels new strength”. This is evoked by alternating loud and soft measures that surge with power.

The fourth movement provides a sudden change of mood. It is a simple march theme which suggests the beginning of the finale but ends abruptly after 24 bars.

An agitated recitative follows, but it too quickly dies away and the impassioned melancholic finale (Allegro appassionato) – which is often regarded as a fifth movement – continues without pause. Here, Beethoven utilizes themes of unusual breadth and nobility which lead to a triumphant climax.

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