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

Takács Quartet – Season 69

November 22, 2016

Takács Quartet
Sunday, December 4, 2016
Vancouver Playhouse 3:00 pm
This concert is generously sponsored by:

Mission Hill Family Estate

Buy tickets here.

Takács Quartet

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 humour, combining four distinct musical personalities to bring fresh insights to the string quartet repertoire.

The Takács became the first string quartet to win the Wigmore Hall Medal on May 10, 2014. The Medal, inaugurated in 2007, recognizes major international artists who have a strong association with the Hall in London. Recipients include Andras Schiff, Thomas Quasthoff, Menachem Pressler, and Dame Felicity Lott. Appointed in 2012 as the first-ever Associate Artists at Wigmore, the Takács present six concerts every season there. In 2012, Gramophone 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 also won the 2011 Award for Chamber Music and Song presented by the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.

This season, the Quartet is performing complete Beethoven quartet cycles at Wigmore Hall, Princeton, the University of Michigan, and UC Berkeley. Late last year, first violinist Edward Dusinberre’s book, Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet, was published by Faber & Faber. So a Beethoven program seems in order for this afternoon.

The Quartet’s award-winning recordings include complete Beethoven and Bartók Cycles on Decca. In 2005, their Late Beethoven Quartets won Disc of the Year and Chamber Award from BBC Music Magazine, a Gramophone Award, Album of the Year at the Brit Awards and a Japanese Record Academy Award. Their recordings of the early and middle Beethoven quartets collected a Grammy, another Gramophone Award, a Chamber Music of America Award and two further awards from the Japanese Recording Academy.

Since 2006 they have recorded with Hyperion, starting with Schubert’s Death and the Maiden and Rosamunde quartets. A 2007 disc featuring Brahms’ piano quintet with Stephen Hough was nominated for a Grammy. The Quartet has recorded music by Brahms, Schumann, Haydn, more Schubert, the three Britten quartets, Janáček’s and Smetana’s quartets, Brahms’ string quintets, Shostakovich’s second string quartet and piano quintet with Marc-André Hamelin, and a disc of Debussy and Franck.

The members of the Takács Quartet are Christoffersen Faculty Fellows at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They also teach during summer residencies at the Aspen Festival and at the Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, and are also Visiting Fellows at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.

The Takács Quartet Programme

String Quartet in A major, Opus 18, No. 5 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Andante cantabile con variazoni

The six quartets of Opus 18 were written between 1798 and 1801 and dedicated to Beethoven’s friend and admirer Prince von Lobkowitz.

The principal theme of the Allegro reveals its light-hearted and lively character in the opening bars. Beethoven’s mastery shows in the embellishment and transformation of a simple thematic element into expressive polished phrases. A contemplative mood is sustained in the secondary theme where the four voices are blended in contrary movement.

The Minuet breathes an atmosphere of sweet, untroubled tenderness. The trio motif is one of the graceful German waltzes Beethoven loved.

The Andante cantabile is a pure, serene theme, which lends itself admirably to the five variations that follow. The first is a spirited dialogue between the instruments; while in the second, the first violin resumes its leading role and gives an elegant display of virtuosity. In the third variation, the theme appears in the lower strings, with a very effective accompaniment in contrary motion by the violins. A comparison of the original theme and the fourth variation brings out in relief the deepening of emotion and intimacy. A heroic, almost military inspiration stirs the last variation before calm is restored to end the movement.

Four light, rapid notes sounded by the viola open the last movement. These are taken up by the other instruments in turn, giving the effect of four people carrying on a whispered conversation. This is interrupted by a second theme and the movement continues in sonata form. Near the conclusion, the first violin sings a “farewell” motif supported by fragments of the motif on the other instruments. A crescendo begins as if preparing for a brilliant climax when quite unexpectedly the movement quietly ends.

String Quartet in F minor, Opus 95 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Allegro con brio
Allegretto, ma non troppo
Allegro assai vivace ma serioso
Larghetto espressivo; Allegretto agitato; Allegro

This quartet is the last of five dating from Beethoven’s second (or “middle”) period. Although composed in 1810, it already anticipated the style and mood of his third period quartets written fourteen years later. Although a short work, it is unmatched in Beethoven’s output for its compression and sense of tension. It is the only quartet for which Beethoven supplies a subtitle, “Serioso” – which reflects both the tense, introspective nature of the music and Beethoven’s somber, despondent frame of mind at the time.

The first movement is the shortest Beethoven ever wrote. Its powerful rough-hewn phrases, its drive and compactness, and its sharp contrasts of mood are unique. The quartet opens with a powerful and perfectly moulded unison statement played by all four instruments, only one bar long. It is the most significant feature of the movement, returning continually as an undercurrent of the more lyrical passages. After three bars of silence, it is followed by two contrasting ideas – a short, jerky rhythmic passage and an expressive violin theme. The ascending second theme, featuring tied triplets, follows a mere six bars later. The marvel is how Beethoven was able to create a movement, which gives a feeling of the utmost unity while using such diverse thematic material.

The lyrical, slower second movement contains a quiet, brooding first theme and an undulating second theme, which is introduced fugally. The themes are held together by a descending melody given to the cello. A mysterious coda ends the movement with a diminished seventh chord upon which the third movement begins without pause.

The third movement, a scherzo in form only, is anything but light-hearted. Exhibiting a roughness and strong propulsive energy, it is in sharp contrast to the contemplative mood of the second movement. In the middle section, harsh, jagged rhythms and a chorale-like trio combine to create a mood of restlessness. This movement is the source of the “Serioso” in the quartet’s title.

Prefaced by a poignant Larghetto, an unremitting restlessness and anxiety pervade the finale. Finally, in an abrupt change of tempo, a boisterous, light-hearted theme appears and the quartet concludes with a burst of breathless energy.


Quartet in E-flat major, Opus 127 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Maestoso – Allegro
Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile
Scherzando vivace

Beethoven’s Opus 127 quartet was the first of the late quartets commissioned by Prince Galitzen. Its first performance, given on March 6, 1825, by the Schuppanzigh Quartet, left the audience bewildered and put the critics on their guard; but the next performance was such a success that it led to seven more performances. As with all the late quartets, it took the public half a century to appreciate fully the magnitude of Beethoven’s achievement.

The quartet’s first movement is unusually brief and concise. It consists of a short introduction of heavily accented, ponderous chords, which return at the beginning and again in the middle of the development section. The first subject is a long, flowing tune characteristic of this period. It is rewritten and varied on its frequent recurrences. The second subject is another lyrical tune. The development deals almost exclusively with the three-note figures found in the first two bars of the first theme. The coda concentrates on the little quaver-figure heard first in the third bar of the first theme. The movement is full of sudden dynamic shifts, modulations to remote keys, and employs the first violin and cello in their extreme registers. The conventional sonata form is so modified that the various sections subtly merge in an almost continuous development. Although the basic classical scheme is still discernible, its sections are fused in the interest of organic growth.

The second movement is the heart of the work. It is more than twice as long as any of the other movements, and consists of a theme with five free variations and a coda. The theme is a long, sustained melody of great beauty and, departing from the usual classical construction, it provides in each variation a starting point for new rhythmic and melodic patterns. In the first variation the note values are broken up and the texture becomes fuller. This process is continued in the second variation. The third variation is a profound simplification of the theme, and the fourth returns to the triple movement of the beginning. After a quiet interlude, the last variation starts with trills on the first violin, marking the return to the tonic. In this variation, all instruments have unbroken semiquaver lines. The short, lovely coda dies away to a pianissimo ending.

The Scherzando begins with a rhythmic figure played by the cello, taken from the introduction to the work. This motif is playfully varied. The Trio, marked Presto, is heard once again, but breaks off suddenly, and a brief return to the motif concludes the movement.

The last movement is marked Finale with the tempo left to the discretion of the players. It begins with a series of octaves. Then the principal theme, a happy, rambling melody, is played by the first violin. It is repeated and followed by a humorous, Haydnesque tune which is related to the second subject. The closing subject, played fortissimo, is an elaboration of the octaves heard at the beginning of the movement. The development is based on the second subject and later combines it with the first. At the close of this section, there is a long diminuendo and the pace slackens. The coda is startlingly original, augmenting the first theme’s initial figure. It appears in each instrument in a variety of keys against the triplet accompaniment of the other parts. At the climax, the key returns to E-flat major, the music slowly sinks to pianissimo and then the work finishes abruptly with two loud chords.


Both at the Vancouver Playhouse

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (Piano Quartet)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017, 8:00 pm

Johannes Brahms
Scherzo, WoO 2, from “F-A-E”

Gabriel Fauré
Piano quartet in G minor, Opus 45

Johannes Brahms
Piano quartet in A major, Opus 26

Pražák Quartet

Tuesday, February 21, 2017, 8:00 pm

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Quartet in D major, K499 “Hoffmeister”

Leoš Janáček
String Quartet No 2, “Intimate Letters”

Ludwig van Beethoven
String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131