Monday, 19 September 2016


Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Friday (16 September 2016)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 19 September 2016 with the title "Stunning work from quartet".

It is no secret that Beethoven's string quartets are hardly performed on concert stages here. Over-reverence and trepidation on the part of local musicians will account for this, and audiences are the poorer as a result. Thus it was a treat to witness an evening of Beethoven quartets performed by the world-renowned Takács Quartet.

Formed in 1975 by four Hungarian students in Budapest, it is presently based in Boulder, Colorado with two of the original members still performing. The interpretation of Beethoven's 16 string quartets is the bedrock of its repertoire, and the three quartets performed also neatly corresponded with the German composer's “three periods” of composition.

From the “early period” was the congenial G major Quartet (Op.18 No.2), following earlier models of Haydn and Mozart but displaying signs of an independent, free-spirited mind. From the outset, the ensemble showed why it is considered one of the world's finest. First violinist Edward Dusinberre's leadership is impeccable, his entries direct and clear-headed, with his colleagues in close audio, visual and almost telepathic contact.

The foursome – with second violinist Karoly Schranz, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist Andras Fejer - coalesced as one although each part could be distinctly discerned. This was a coming together of singular minds with the ultimate objective of cohesion and projection that was keenly maintained over the 2-hour long programme. When the surface calm was stirred, as in the 1st movement's development, the pacing and dissonance level was upped, but the quartet remained resolute.

As jarring contrast, the F minor Quartet (Op.95) from Beethoven's “middle period” was storm and stress in its four minor-key movements. Its nickname “Serioso” was taken seriously, as muscle and sinew strained to deliver its alternatingly angry and sombre message. Yet there were subtle gradations within this angst and indignation, which the quartet brought out trenchantly. With the wave of a wand, the finale's turned from darkness to light of a major-key to finish with an acute start.

The second half was reserved for the C sharp minor Quartet (Op.131) from the “late period”. Here Beethoven broke all the moulds in this 40-minute-long utterance of seven connected movements. The mind boggled at the myriad changes of mood, emotion and disposition that took place in this journey of the soul, wrought by the stone-deaf, disease-wracked and spiritually-scarred personality.

Dusinberre's stark opening solo issued like a cry for help, to which the other strings piled on their responses in a contrapuntal maze. Before any resolution could be had, the jolly 2nd movement and interlude-like 3rd movement arrived before the 4th movement's theme and variations. The quartet kept the audience listening, and enthralled as to what might just happen next.

Such is the elusive narrative quality of absolute music, that only an outfit like the Takács can convey with such utter immediacy and vividness. By the close of the passionately hewn finale, the chorus of bravos that rang out was a just indication of their stunning success.

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