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...but not entirely

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
08/14/2000 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Quartet # 5
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Quartet K.575
Robert Schumann: Piano Quintet

Takacs Quartet
Garrick Ohlsson (piano)

The Mostly Mozart Festival in the year 2000 has distinguished itself with its consistent high quality of performance but has also expanded its repertoire far beyond the eighteenth century. In addition to several concerts of Bach, presumably for the 250th death year, there is even a recital of the lieder of Mahler. Most of the programs contain at least one work of Wolfgang and present this work in the context of its time or its legacy. In an exceptional chamber evening, the Takacs Quartet lovingly played three representative examples of the repertoire in three distinct styles. It was particularly interesting to hear that the quality of this wonderful ensemble has not suffered due to the resignation of its founder, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, who abandoned playing altogether for a time in an effort to refocus his artistic and emotional center (he is now again happily leading the Budapest Festival Orchestra). In fact, the blended sound of the group is as translucent as ever, sending me scurrying to my program to see if they were playing some rare historical instruments. No matter what the style, the aural image was always indescribably rich and golden.

The early Beethoven quartets are in many ways extensions of the works of Haydn and rank with Papa’s best works. The Takacs emphasized the conversational side of this essay and seemed to be in total accord by the end of the discussion. Perhaps it’s just me, but I find this particular Mozart piece quite dull, nowhere near as satisfying as, say, the six quartets dedicated to Haydn. But these adroit Hungarians could play the telephone book and I would be happy to be their acoustical witness.

The real magic of the evening was reserved for the Schumann. Garrick Ohlsson is a particular favorite of mine, his giant hands capable of intense and immense surges of power. There was an interesting sonic balance in this performance, cello and viola playing softly while the piano was strident, producing a very powerful effect weighted towards the keyboard, a fitting tribute to a composer so enamored of both the instrument and its great virtuosa, his wife. In spots, the playing was so intense as to remind me of another group of Hungarians (later Russians) who became known as the Budapest Quartet. The summer crowd was a tad on the unsophisticated side, as the applause between movements indicated, but this fine performance pleased them very much. What could easily slide by as a mediocre summer festival has become instead one of the finest showcases for intelligent music making in New York and all involved deserve the highest possible praise.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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