The New York Times

Tue 17 Feb 2015

Takacs Quartet and the Viennese Masters Play at Alice Tully Hall

From even the most prominent of string quartets, a program of Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven might come across as stolid. After all, there are so many foursomes around now that scoff at every kind of boundary, from the JACK and the Kronos to the Ébène and the Danish. But the Takacs Quartet always shows that there is, and must be, room for insightful, intense performances of major works. That was its achievement in a superb appearance at Alice Tully Hall on Thursday: revealing the familiar as unfamiliar, making the most traditional of works feel radical once more.In Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” in C minor (D. 703), for instance, an emaciated tone from the violist Geraldine Walther and the cellist Andras Fejer transformed what are often just fretful passages into something much more profoundly unstable, while the genial support of the second violinist, Karoly Schranz, made Edward Dusinberre’s contrasting, songful violin line all the sweeter.

Disorientation carried over into Mozart’s G minor quintet (K. 516), aided now by the addition of the violist Lawrence Power. All the marks of exalted Mozart playing were here, especially a graceful ebb and flow. But the first movement also had a wretched quality, staggering punch-drunk from one phrase to the next without losing the sense of overall line. The minuet was anything but a dance, its elegance stilted and uncertain, the slow movement mysterious and wrenching where you’d least expect it, in the plainest of cadences. Even the finale — which, for other quintets, casts everything away, striding on carefree — traveled under threatening clouds.

Beethoven, too, sounded as fresh as he should (but rarely does). To me, the Takacs will forever be primarily a Beethoven quartet. That may be a personal feeling, because its was the first Beethoven quartet playing I heard, and its recordings remain the ones I most often return to.

More likely, it’s because the musicians share and develop lines as genuine equals, in a way that matches the composer’s writing so well. Whatever their distinction in the Schubert and Mozart, in the F major “Razumovsky” Quartet (Op. 59, No. 1), the Takacs’ sound seemed newly alive, its vision taking on symphonic breadth. Whether in a studiously unfunny scherzo — its range of expression almost Mahlerian — or a forlorn, capacious account of the slow movement, this Beethoven was always going somewhere, its destination clear even if the way was not.

David Allen