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The Takács Quartet and Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Orange County
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
04/24/2008 -  
Haydn: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74 No. 3, Hob. III 74, “The Rider”
Brahms: String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 67
Franck: Piano Quintet in F minor

The Takács Quartet: Edward Dusinberre, Károly Schranz (violin), Geraldine Walther (viola), András Fejér (cello) – Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)

In music, as in everything, so much depends on our expectations. Haydn’s String Quartet, “The Rider,” is often successfully performed with rhythms driven hard, cantering dangerously at the edge of control. At such performances it can be stunning to witness the musical restraint of maniacal force and speed. Over the last few years, I have heard the Tokyo and the Vermeer Quartets demonstrate such mastery. But Haydn himself did not name this quartet “The Rider,” and the Takács took a different approach.

The concert hall’s massive concrete acoustic doors were closed at the orchestra level and only slightly open above, to create a more intimate sound. I was seated at the rear of the orchestra section, in front of the terrace. The sound was good, clear and warm if a little distant, as it would have been in Carnegie Hall. But the space felt a little cavernous for this quartet. This performance would have been tremendous, more personal and immediate, at the nearby Samueli Hall.

As the Takács began to play, they all swayed back and forth musically, as if in a painting of a gypsy tavern by Chagall. Geraldine Walther wore burgundy red and the men white shirts with banded collars. They were completely natural together, almost as if they were a family quartet in 19th century Prague. The audience applauded at the end of the first movement. The quartet paused for long moment, tuning while stragglers came into the partially empty hall. In the second movement the musicians began to find their stride, entering into the beautiful lower and darker register of the Largo assai. Again there was applause. The third movement Menuetto (Allegretto) began an indolent gallop, a happy ride to the tavern. In the Finale: Allegro con brio, the horse was off and running, but deftly. They began the movement quickly, as if to prevent the audience from interrupting them with more applause. But this was not the headlong gallop of a foxhunt. It was not a contest against a driven tempo, but a graceful, earthy, Eastern European approach to Haydn. The players seemed to have some difficulty getting started in that hall with that audience, and offered an inward performance of an extroverted piece. It was not ecstatic, but was beautiful nonetheless.

The Haydn was a good foundation for the Brahms that followed, although the audience continued to applaud between movements. The Brahms was more outgoing with ensemble playing that was masterfully subtle. The harmonies were exquisite and strong, again with an Eastern European accent. The cello pizzicatti were not aggressive, but refined and complex. Geraldine Walther’s gorgeous viola blended magnificently; what a coup for them to have chosen her as their new violist. The performance was rich and warm, but not overwhelming. Some in the audience stood as they applauded.

After the intermission, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who now lives in Los Angeles as well as Paris, made an instantly striking impression. Having a pianist of his caliber resident here could be a great gift to the musical scene in Southern California. The opportunity to hear Thibaudet perform adventurous programs in more intimate settings would be extraordinary.

The Franck quintet opens like a concerto, with all of the strings in symphony answered by a solo piano, then back again to all the strings. Thibaudet and the Takács made a formidable combo for this music, with a lush, wet sound riven with atmosphere. The virtuoso pianist offered demonic fireworks, dramatic as hell and then infinitely delicate. The gracious interplay between piano and quartet made me fall in love with this 19th century French romanticism all over again. The quartet was completely loose and at ease, swaying together like seaweed in the surge underwater. Some of the audience didn’t understand the music, and left during the applause between movements. I find 19th century French romantic chamber music completely irresistible. But as with Bruckner and Mahler, there are those who don’t appreciate it. But the Takács and Thibaudet were ideal interpreters; the final Allegro non troppo was apocalyptic ecstasy.

Thomas Aujero Small



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