Takács Quartet serves a trio of masterworks with vital and idiomatic performances

November 17, 2012 at 10:01 am

By Keith Powers

The Takács Quartet performed music of Haydn, Schubert and Shostakovich Friday night at Jordan Hall.

Of course the absolutely perfect performance never happens—there’s always a slightly misplaced fingering, or bowing that squawks too aggressively or whispers too timidly.

The Takács Quartet’s performance Friday evening at Jordan Hall wasn’t spotless, but it came close. The program, presented by the Celebrity Series, featured quartets from Haydn and Schubert after which Takács was joined by the elegant pianist Marc-André Hamelin for Shostakovich’s G minor Piano Quintet. The entire program was highlighted by a rigid attention to detail, along with a frisky intention to infuse the music with life.

Takács has been around long enough to develop that burnished tone and trustworthiness that comes from familiarity. It also didn’t hurt that this performance happened near the end of a multi-stop tour with Hamelin.

Haydn’s late Quartet in C major, Op. 76, no. 5, continues to sound fresh more than two hundred years later. The performance began with the evening’s only fault, a kind of bumptious ride through the first movement Allegretto section. First chair Edward Dusinberre hung on on to a dotted figure, and took broad rubato-like risks with the melody, but his companions (Károly Schranz, second violin, András Fejér, cello, and violist Geraldine Walther) were not quite locked into the rhythmic underpinning.

All was rectified with the ensuing lush, song-like Largo, all four voices joining in to the cantabile line, with Dusinberre especially finding ways to articulate phrases with particular insight. Violin students could learn much from his bowing. His upward strokes mid-phrase to create slight accents, and elevated spiccato technique, added unanticipated charm to the score. The dance movement Menuetto was an ensemble delight, and the Presto finale jumped off the pages.

Schubert’s “Rosamunde” Quartet in A minor, D. 804, inhabits a melancholy world colored by the composer’s own life tragedy, but articulated through a kind of wordless song. Each of the aching melodies cries out for a text to help explicate its tender longing. This un-voiced pleading peaks in the second movement, with a dotted five-note figure repeated and passed so relentlessly it sticks in the mind like Morse code. It was shared by the ensemble like a great Shakespeare recitation: no dead air, each re-stating a subtle crescendo or decrescendo, accenting the differences brought about by repetition.

Shostakovich’s wartime Piano Quintet in G minor, Opus 57 was a triumph at its premiere; it remains arresting and yet accessible, its five movements each imbued with unique melodic appeal. Hamelin’s great gifts serve largely in a support role here, with no broad piano flourishes; the keyboard tends to color above or below the range of the strings.

A slow prelude introduction leads to an even slower Fugue, the work’s intellectual centerpiece, which works its way around the ensemble from first violin to viola, with the piano finally joining in with a startling left-hand concluding statement. Unlike a great Bach fugue that stands out for contrapuntal complexity, this fugue resonates with the startling simplicity of its five separate voices.

The Scherzo, a brisk adventure, was thrown off with such comic fair that it actually brought laughter from the audience. Another slow movement, a Lento intermezzo with Dusinberre articulating a long-lined phrase as its lead voice, led to a quietly understated conclusion. Shostakovich concludes the work with a nondescript farewell at the end, rather that rousing deeper emotions.

The evening was in all ways true to the intention of each score, and true as well to the spirit of performing these great works with gusto.

The Celebrity Series presents “A Chanticleer Christmas,” 8 p.m. Nov. 30 at Jordan Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617-482-6661.

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