Takács Quartet reviewed in Sydney Morning Herald

Intelligent take on a difficult program brings own rewards
Peter McCallum, Sydney Morning Herald
June 26, 2012

For the latest of its always welcome Australian tours, the Takacs Quartet has constructed two rich programs exploring youth, maturity, national difference and the influence of an absent centre.

Each starts with one of Janacek’s two quartets, both written in the 1920s in his late years, and each closes with either Debussy’s or Ravel’s single quartet, both early works signalling first maturity before the composers moved on to create defining music of the Impressionist era.

In between are the youthful first and late third quartets of Benjamin Britten and the Variations for String Quartet by Gordon Kerry, both of whom share a capacity to create new meaning from classical genres and gestures.

The programs avoid the genre-defining classical works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, although as violinist Edward Dusinberre mentioned in an introduction, they were a silent presence.

Janacek’s String Quartet No.1 “After Leo Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata”, is compulsively volatile in mood and texture as it moves between passionate intimacy, nagging jealousy and the characters and subjectivities represented in Tolstoy’s novella. The Takacs Quartet drew it all together with an overarching balance of sound and collective musical intelligence that converted the idiosyncratic changeability into an insightful narrative of human pain and fallibility.

Britten’s first quartet shows precocious formal mastery for a 28-year-old (close to Beethoven’s age when writing his first mature quartet), particularly in the way the opening music re-emerges tellingly yet logically from what has gone before.

Kerry’s Variations for String Quartet is based on a short theme, continuously renewed and reinvented. Distinctively, in the Australian context, the work engages with the thought processes of the language of classical quartet writing with intelligence, subtlety and insight, to create something new from the past without being derivative of it.

Of all their virtues, it was the Takacs Quartet’s capacity for intelligent musical discourse that turned this work, whose difficulties are sometimes underestimated, into a richly grained, deeply rewarding half hour.

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