Takács String Quartet

Takács Quartet

Sun, October 15, 2017, 3:00pm


Founded in Budapest in 1975, the Takács Quartet have since won countless awards around the world and have become known for their innovative programming and outstanding technical expertise. For their Caramoor debut, this preeminent quartet presents a program ranging from one of Haydn’s most ambitious chamber works to the sinister mood of Shostakovich to Brahms’ — in his own words — “very dainty, but brilliant” string quartet.

“The consummate artistry of the Takács is simply breathtaking” – The Guardian

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


Haydn String Quartet in D Major Op. 76, No. 5
Shostakovich String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor, Op. 122
– Intermission –Brahms String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 67

Haydn: String Quartet, Op. 74, No. 3
Music Academy of the West 2015 Summer Festival

Takács Quartet

Takács Quartet

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

Artist Website Listen

The Takács Quartet, now entering its forty-third season, is renowned for the vitality of its interpretations. The New York Times recently lauded the ensemble for “revealing the familiar as unfamiliar, making the most traditional of works feel radical once more,” and the Financial Times described a recent concert at the Wigmore Hall: “Even in the most fiendish repertoire these players show no fear, injecting the music with a heady sense of freedom. At the same time, though, there is an uncompromising attention to detail: neither a note nor a bow-hair is out of place.” Based in Boulder at the University of Colorado, the Takács Quartet performs eighty concerts a year worldwide.

The Takács became the first string quartet to win the Wigmore Hall Medal in May, 2014 and were appointed in 2012 as the first-ever Associate Artists at Wigmore.

In Europe during the 2017-2018 season, in addition to their four annual appearances as Associate Artists at London’s Wigmore Hall, the ensemble returns to Copenhagen, Vienna, Luxembourg, Rotterdam, the Rheingau Festival and the Edinburgh Festival.  They perform twice at Carnegie Hall, presenting a new Carl Vine work commissioned for them by Musica Viva Australia, Carnegie Hall and the Seattle Commissioning Club. In 2017, the ensemble joined the summer faculty at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara. They return to New Zealand and Australia, perform at Tanglewood with pianist Garrick Ohlsson, at the Aspen Festival, and in over forty other concerts in prestigious North American venues.  They will also tour with pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin. The latest Takács recording, to be released by Hyperion in September 2017, features Dvorák’s viola quintet, Opus 97 (with Lawrence Power) and String Quartet, Opus 105.

Last season, the Takacs presented complete 6-concert Beethoven quartet cycles in London’s Wigmore Hall, at Princeton, the University of Michigan, and at UC Berkeley.  Complementing these cycles, Edward Dusinberre’s book, Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet, was published in the UK by Faber and Faber and in North America by the University of Chicago Press.  The book takes the reader inside the life of a string quartet, melding music history and memoir as it explores the circumstances surrounding the composition of Beethoven’s quartets.

They became the first string quartet to win the Wigmore Hall Medal in May, 2014. The Medal, inaugurated in 2007, recognizes major international artists who have a strong association with the Hall. Recipients so far include Andras Schiff, Thomas Quasthoff, Menachem Pressler and Dame Felicity Lott. 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.

The Takács Quartet performed Philip Roth’s Everyman program with Meryl Streep at Princeton in 2014, and again with her at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto in 2015. The program was conceived in close collaboration with Philip Roth. The Quartet is known for such innovative programming. They first performed Everyman at Carnegie Hall in 2007 with Philip Seymour Hoffman. They have toured 14 cities with the poet Robert Pinsky, collaborate regularly with the Hungarian Folk group Muzsikas, and in 2010 they collaborated with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and David Lawrence Morse on a drama project that explored the composition of Beethoven’s last quartets.

The Takács records for Hyperion Records, and their releases for that label include string quartets by Haydn, Schubert, Janáček, Smetana, Debussy and Britten, as well as piano quintets by César Franck and Shostakovich (with Marc-André Hamelin), and viola quintets by Brahms (with Lawrence Power). Future releases for Hyperion include the Dvořák disc with Lawrence Power, the Dohnanyi Piano Quintets with Marc-André Hamelin, and piano quintets by Elgar and Amy Beach with Garrick Ohlsson. For their CDs on the Decca/London label, the Quartet has won three Gramophone Awards, a Grammy Award, three Japanese Record Academy Awards, Disc of the Year at the inaugural BBC Music Magazine Awards, and Ensemble Album of the Year at the Classical Brits.

Full details of all recordings can be found in the Recordings section of the Quartet’s website.

The members of the Takács Quartet are Christoffersen Faculty Fellows at the University of Colorado Boulder and play on instruments generously loaned to them by a family Foundation. The Quartet has helped to develop a string program with a special emphasis on chamber music, where students work in a nurturing environment designed to help them develop their artistry.  The Takács is a Visiting Quartet at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London.

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. It first received international attention in 1977, winning First Prize and the Critics’ Prize at the International String Quartet Competition in Evian, France. The Quartet also won the Gold Medal at the 1978 Portsmouth and Bordeaux Competitions and First Prizes at the Budapest International String Quartet Competition in 1978 and the Bratislava Competition in 1981. The Quartet made its North American debut tour in 1982. Violinist Edward Dusinberre joined the Quartet in 1993 and violist Roger Tapping in 1995. Violist Geraldine Walther replaced Mr. Tapping 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.

About the Music.

Program at a Glance

The three works on today’s program comprise a kind of triptych, with robustly good-humored quartets by Haydn and Brahms framing a bleak, brooding centerpiece by Shostakovich. The contrast could hardly be starker, or more illuminating.

Haydn was at the peak of his powers when he wrote his six Op. 76 Quartets in the mid-1790s. Among his last contributions to the genre that he had done so much to create, the D Major Quartet is notable for its youthful exuberance, motivic unity, and harmonic audacity. Brahms’s Quartet in B-flat Major, long popular with audiences and performers, was the composer’s personal favorite as well. The great violinist Joseph Joachim gave it his unqualified approval, declaring that Brahms had “probably never written such beautiful chamber music as in the D minor movement [the Agitato] and the Finale, the first full of magical romanticism, the last full of intimacy and grace …”

The eleventh of Shostakovich’s fifteen quartets dates from 1966, a period in which the beleaguered composer – whose music had long been suppressed by Soviet authorities – finally achieved the recognition he deserved, both at home and abroad.

Characteristically, the seven interconnected movements of the F Minor Quartet veer between morbid brooding and frenetic activity. Perhaps more than any composer since Beethoven, Shostakovich employed the string quartet as a vehicle for his deepest ruminations on the human condition.


String Quartet in D Major, Op. 76, No. 5

About the Composer

Charles Burney, the industrious chronicler of eighteenth-century music, lauded Haydn’s Op. 76 String Quartets as “full of invention, fire, good taste and new effects.” By the time the set was published in 1799, such tributes to Haydn’s seemingly inexhaustible creativity were commonplace. Since the death of his longtime patron, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, in 1790, the composer had taken out a new lease on life, spreading his artistic wings and writing in more extraverted, crowd-pleasing style that reflected the burgeoning public demand for his music. Nonetheless, “Papa” Haydn was beginning to slow down as he approached his seventh decade. “Every day the world compliments me on the fire of my recent works,” he remarked to his publisher, “but no one will believe the strain and effort it costs me to produce them.”

About the Work

Composed in the mid-1790s, the six Op. 76 Quartets betray no sign of flagging energy, much less invention. As for Burney’s “good taste,” that quality had been a consistent hallmark of Haydn’s work from his earliest days. (The title page of the 1799 publication depicts the venerable composer consorting in the heavens with a pair of angels, one of whom is holding a laurel-wreath halo above his head.) Poised between the Baroque exuberance of Bach and Vivaldi – both of whom were still going strong when Haydn was born in 1732 – and the nascent Romanticism of his pupil Beethoven, his music reflects the Classical virtues of equilibrium, clarity, and seriousness of purpose, tempered with a playfulness and often earthy sense of humor that have delighted audiences and players for more than two centuries.

A Deeper Listen

The D Major Quartet opens with a simple triadic tune that’s all sweetness and light. But complications soon arise as the Allegretto veers off into F major in a sophisticated fugato-style development section abounding in unexpected twists and turns. Then, deftly switching gears (and keys, to the remote realm of F-sharp), Haydn gives us one of most sublimely luminous slow movements. The tenderly arching theme, by turns buoyant and plaintive, is closely related in its intervals and contours to that of Allegretto. The family resemblance carries over into the jovial D major theme of the Menuetto, a sharp contrast to the cello’s ominous rumblings in the somber Trio section. Haydn has more tricks up his sleeve in the Finale, the players mark time for a full eight bars before the bouncy theme breaks out in the first violin and cello. The music pivots to a new key a fourth lower, and we’re off on a madcap chase featuring propulsive rhythms, vivid dynamic contrasts, and lively interplay between the voices.


String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor, Op. 122

About the Composer

Few composers have been as rudely buffeted by the winds of political fortune as Dmitri Shostakovich. From the time his music first incurred official censure for its bourgeois “formalism” in the early 1930s, the highly strung composer played an elaborate game of feint and attack with the Soviet regime, cannily balancing his more abrasive, cutting-edge music with a stream of reassuringly patriotic and artistically conservative works. In the political thaw that followed Stalin’s death in 1953, Shostakovich reached a precarious entente with his political masters, who needed his support almost as much as he needed theirs. Belatedly tasting the fruits of his international fame, he traveled abroad, established contacts with Benjamin Britten and other Western composers, and achieved performances of works that had long been suppressed. With acute misgivings, he even accepted a number of official posts, becoming secretary of the state-run composers’ union and belatedly joining the Communist Party that had made much of his life a misery.

About the Work

Despite his deteriorating health, Shostakovich’s creative energy showed no signs of faltering in his final years. However uneasily he may have rested on his laurels, he refused to give his enemies the satisfaction of watching him sink into complacency. Indeed, the last decade of his life was a time of intense productivity. Like Beethoven, Shostakovich increasingly turned inward as he wrestled with the demons that had long lurked beneath the surface of his music. These sometimes morbid preoccupations would culminate in the valedictory Sonata for Viola and Piano, completed a month before his death in 1975. Its prevailing atmosphere of elegiac introspection is foreshadowed in the Eleventh String Quartet, written in January 1966 and premiered by the Beethoven Quartet in Moscow on March 25. (Like its three sequels, Op. 122 is dedicated to a member of the ensemble, which had loyally championed Shostakovich’s work since the 1930s.) Two months later the composer suffered a heart attack that ended his performing career, yet all was not bleak. On turning 60 that September, Shostakovich was showered with further state honors, including his second Order of Lenin.

A Deeper Listen

Like much of Shostakovich’s music, the F Minor Quartet has a decidedly schizophrenic character, balanced on a knife edge between hope and despair. The suite-like sequence of seven interconnected movements is played without breaks, as indicated in the score by the direction attacca, a term that suggests the relentlessness of the music’s assault on the listener’s senses. Yet there is almost nothing violent about Shostakovich’s cry of existential anguish. Apart from a short, savage outburst of dissonance in the third movement, the music is almost eerily restrained. The quartet opens with a tenderly swooning melody in the solo first violin, like a bittersweet lullaby, but a throbbing motive in the lower voices soon injects a more menacing atmosphere. This repeated-note figure rises to the surface in the Scherzo, whose dully plodding tread and mirthless glissandos sound more dirge-like than playful. The explosive energy of the Recitative flows into the manic passagework of the Etude, and then into the pulsing eighth notes of the Humoresque, which, in the words of Shostakovich’s biographer Ian MacDonald, “seem to embody life at a flickering minimum: its ultimate reduction to heartbeat, brain-wave, or breath.” The spark of life grows increasingly tenuous in the last two movements, with the dolorous Scherzo theme briefly revived in the Finale, only to expire in the fading glow of the first violin’s sustained high C.


String Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67

About the Composer

“It took Mozart a lot of trouble to compose six early quartets,” Brahms wrote to his publisher, Fritz Simrock, in 1869, “so I will try my hardest to turn out a couple fairly well done. They should not fail you, but if I were a publisher I should not be in such a hurry.” Four years later Simrock’s patience was rewarded with the delivery of Brahms’s first two quartets, Op. 51, Nos. 1 and 2. Over the years the composer had written and destroyed a slew of string quartets – no fewer than twenty, by his own count – none of which measured up to his exacting standards. Among other things, Brahms was paralyzed by the thought of following in the footsteps of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, especially at a time when the string quartet medium had fallen out of favor with his fellow “progressive” composers.

About the Work

Brahms began work on his third and last quartet, Op. 67, in the summer of 1875. Not yet settled permanently in Vienna, the 42-year-old composer was lodging with a painter friend outside Heidelberg. The countrified setting was so idyllic that Brahms declined a tempting invitation to conduct his German Requiem in Munich. As he told a friend, “I stay sitting here, and from time to time write largely useless pieces in order not to have to look into the stern face of a symphony.” Among the “useless pieces” he produced that summer was the Quartet in B-flat Major, the gayest and most accessible of the three, and Brahms’s personal favorite. A contemporary critic compared it favorably to the knotty Op. 51 quartets, observing that Brahms “this time seems to have decided to take the sunlit meadow-path.”

A Deeper Listen

Whether consciously or otherwise, Brahms evokes the cheery mood and B-flat tonality of Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet in the Vivace’s opening 6/8 theme (which, despite its jagged syncopations, one can easily imagine being played by horns), the profusion of cascading sixteenth notes, and the dance-like second subject in 2/4 time. Here, as elsewhere in the Third Quartet, Brahms mixes meters, often setting two beats in one part against three in another. The two middle movements are a study in contrasts: tempo (Andante versus Agitato), key (F Major versus D Minor), and character (warm and spacious versus driven and somewhat skittish). The third movement’s delicate coda comes to rest on a major chord that sets the stage for the finale, a delightful set of theme and variations in the home key, in which Brahms ingeniously brings back the two themes from the first movement.

– Harry Haskell