Berkshire Eagle Review: Takács Quartet and Garrick Ohlsson at the Tanglewood Music Festival

Takács Quartet goes to the heights with Beethoven

By Andrew L. Pincus, Special to The Eagle


LENOX — Haydn invented the string quartet form, Beethoven who studied briefly with Haydn, went beyond      
the old man and everybody else in development of the form and content. To hear a fine performance of a late Beethoven quartet or sonata is to connect to the divine, whoever or whatever the divine may be for you.

Intentionally or unintentionally, the Takács Quartet made the point at Tanglewood on Wednesday night, playing Haydn's Opus 20, No. 4, and following it with Beethoven's Opus 130. The deeply immersing performances passed up opportunities for dramatics in favor of refinement of tone, ensemble and expression. The inner drama of the music spoke for itself.

What was Beethoven thinking when he wrote the Cavatina (literally, "song") of Opus 130? His deafness? His mortality? His dinner? His troublesome nephew, Karl?

For sure, everyday needs vexed the aging man. But when played as seamlessly and inwardly as the Takács played it, Opus 130, and especially the Cavatina, rises to a higher sphere, where truth lies beyond politics, fads and vanity. You could wish it would go on forever.

In Haydn's Opus 20, No. 4, one of his lesser-known quartets, the Takács emphasized grace, whether in the lovely theme and variations of the slow movement or the merry chase of the finale. In Beethoven, the first four of the six movements bore just enough weight to prepare for the Cavatina. The players then took Beethoven's alternate finale, playing it cheerfully, energetically, as relief after the Cavatina's prayer-like meditation, which lingered the more strongly in the mind.

(What was Beethoven thinking in the original finale, the angry, scrabbling, dissonant fugue that friends and his publisher wisely urged him to replace? The original, known as the Grosse Fuge, is still sometimes performed as the quartet's finale and sometimes standing alone. In the quartet, it seems to deny and defy the Cavatina's message.)

For a program finale, pianist Garrick Ohlsson joined the strings in Elgar's post-Brahmsian Piano Quintet. The sprawling work seemed a sequel to the Englishman's Symphony No. 1, performed a week before by the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra.

Both works seem to be propelled, or bogged down, by enough ideas for three quintets or symphonies. In the quintet, these ideas include a recurring waltz that seems straight out of the potted-palm era. The difficulty in both works is that the ideas that flow in such profusion don't seem to connect to one another.

The Takács and Ohlsson have been championing the Elgar as an alternative to the better-known piano quintets of Brahms, Schumann and Dvorak. The performance reflected their faith in the music.

© 2018 Takács Quartet