New Dvořák Recording – Hyperion

Takács Quartet New Recording Release, September 2017September 2017 Release
Hyperion CDA68142

Takács Quartet, Lawrence Power (viola)

Antonin Dvořák
Viola Quintet Opus 97
String Quartet, Op. 105
Two recent reviews:

GRAMOPHONE Author: Harriet Smith


DVORAK: String Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105; String Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 97 – Takacs Quartet/ Lawrence Power, viola – Hyperion CDA68142, 64:59 (9/29/17) 



The pairing of the Takács Quartet and viola player Lawrence Power has already

proved a winning one in Brahms and the results are no less seductive in Dvořák,

with a recording that brings them up close and personal.


The ebb and flow of the Quintet’s first movement unfolds with complete naturalness and if at times there’s a sense that climaxes could be lusher-toned, the detailing and interplay are beyond reproach. The second movement is one of the highlights – the Raphael, while good, are not as silky-toned, and the way the Takács and Power use vibrato as an expressive device rather than a default position is one of the many pleasures of their playing. The Skampa are more overly folky here, tending to make the accents sharper, but how beautifully the first viola on this new disc launches the minor-key melody of the Trio section. There’s an intensity to the slow movement that puts me in mind of the Takács’s recordings of late Beethoven, compared to which the Skampa are more straightforwardly warm-hearted. The variations that follow are vibrantly coloured and intimately voiced, the shadows finally dispatched in the rumbustious finale.


The Op 105 Quartet, begun in America but finished in Prague, likewise impresses from the start, the minimal vibrato giving the opening a real sense of portent. Occasionally I hankered after more drive through the Allegro appassionato but in the Takács’s hands the delightful Molto vivace second movement has supreme lightness – the four players demonstrating that innate lightning-quick reflex that you find in the greatest quartets. Their Trio is also intoxicating, as is the way they move from this back into the opening furiant (from 3'59") – a masterclass of subtle inevitability. The Hagen are perhaps less subtle, tending to bite into accents more vigorously. The slow movement is given all the space it needs, even if it’s possible to imagine a still-warmer sound quality characteristic of home-grown Czech groups. The minor-key middle section, in which the melody is passed from first violin to fruity viola against throbbing cello backdrop, is, however, given with due intensity. As we return to the major-key main idea, they delight anew in its chirruping playfulness. The Takács relish, too, the skitteringly dramatic opening to the finale before it sets off its jolly discourse (though listen to the Smetana Quartet here for a more echt Czech sound). This is a movement that can, in the wrong hands, sound discursive – but not here, and the Takács’s way with the close brings a suitably uplifting ending to an entrancing disc.



Audiophile Audition, October 7, 2017 Author: Gary Lemco



Splendid readings of to late Dvorak chamber music staples provide a lush hour of listening pleasure.


Antonin Dvorak, while enjoying his position as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, conceived of a new “national anthem” for America, having remarked that it seemed “a pity that for America to use an English tune for one of its anthems.” The theme Dvorak invented finds its way in to his magnificent String Quintet in E-flat (1893), a work which flowered in Spillville, Iowa, which boasted a substantial Czech community as well as a frequent visiting locale for Native American tribes. The rich harmonic and sonorous vocabulary of the composer emerges from the outset, Allegro non tanto, which allows the plangent, two violas to interact, while drum patterns and throbbing pedal points evolve in often pentatonic scales. The chromatic syntax—wavering between g minor and B-flat Major—no less manipulates dynamics ingeniously, alternating from pianissimos to lush fortissimos. True to Dvorak’s late works—especially those that emerged from his American sojourn—the transitions within the sonata-form structure prove absolutely seamless, so that melodic and rhythmic invention virtually eliminates our sense of Classical architecture.

If the marvelous sonic interplay of the Takacs—courtesy of Engineer Simon Eadon at Wyastone Estate, 18-21 May 2106—had not already mesmerized our sensibilities, the B Major Scherzo, Allegro vivo, from the first repeated note of the second viola, should enthrall any chamber music devotee. Dvorak may well have been thinking of the fierce Scherzo in Beethoven’s F Major Rasumovksy Quartet, Op. 59, No. 1.  The middle section—with its own subdued drumbeats—has a poignant announcement from the first viola, Geraldine Walther, in the minor mode. The da capo takes a departure into a distant A-flat Major, pianissimo, before it remembers the middle section transposed into a stunning major-mode declaration. The Larghetto proffers a melancholy theme and five variations whose theme exploits some moving bass tones from Andras Fejer’s cello. Here, the tune for “My country, ‘tis of thee” appears as the second half of the main theme. Tremolo effects and stunning modal harmonies saturate the movement, whose beauties certainly engross our principals. The occasional antiphons assume that easy charm of Dvorak at his most lyrical. Fejer’s intensely passionate variation four has shadows of tremolos in his companions. The last variant projects both ferocity and tenderness, alternately. For his grand finale, Dvorak chooses a spirited Allegro giusto that likes dotted, Native Indian rhythm in rondo interrupted by elegantly legato, flowing melody, but only serving as a foil to the more than fifty bars of unbroken fortissimo that conclude this wild movement with a decisive, American hurrah.


The year 1895 marked the end of Dvorak’s American venture, and he returned to Prague with a glad heart. His Quartet in A-flat Major provides evidence only of his Bohemian roots, opening Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro appassionato in figures that move from dark brooding into exuberant light. The Takacs infuse the dark opening of the Adagio ma non troppo with an eerie menace, much in the spirit of Beethoven, the main theme’s exploiting a descending arpeggio that moves to a dotted rhythm upbeat. The violin and viola each has its contribution, lyrical versus rasping. After a kind of hunting motif, the powerful, often contrapuntal development moves into a “circuitous route” in e minor.  Throughout the movement, almost in spite of the sophistication of the layering, the music retains a kind of strutting, dance element intrinsic to this master’s late style.

Dvorak writes a marvelously syncopated Furiant in f minor for his second movement, the accents shifting to alternate duple and triple meters. The lovely Trio evolves almost invisibly form the last phrases of the main tune, here in consoling D-flat Major.  First violin Edward Dusinberre intones sweet phrases in tandem with violin Karoly Schranz and cello Fejer before the figures swing once more into the infectious da capo. Something of Beethoven’s capacity for expressive thanksgiving suffuses the Lento e molto cantabile, which opens in the manner of hymn’s awaiting variation procedures.  The music moves in its interior from major into minor modes, and Fejer’s cello intones a drum-tap figuration. One can easily discern the influence this chromatic and expressive music would have on the likes of Janacek or Martinu. The late pages, fraught with pizzicato effects and another strutting series of riffs, lends a melancholy dance character to the movement, which closes in a brief homage to the middle section before fading away. The Finale: Allegro ma non tanto begins in a rush, from the gruff cello first, followed by feverish desire in the other instruments for a fiery dance.  Dvorak repeats the opening page, assigning to this music a “symphonic” status. Sunny and expansive, the music embraces A-flat Major with a Bohemian fertility of sound that makes us relish the Takacs’ fluid ensemble, which would seem to include how much each of the musicians remains fascinated by his colleagues.


© 2018 Takács Quartet