Takács Quartet, Wigmore Hall, London — ‘Emotional depths’

The Financial Times
by Hannah Nepil
February 7, 2016

The Hungarian ensemble played with freedom but also an uncompromising attention to detail

Anyone can play with wild abandon; few manage to make it sound pretty. The Takács Quartet is an exception. Even in the most fiendish repertoire these players show no fear, injecting the music with a heady sense of freedom. At the same time, though, there is an uncompromising attention to detail: neither a note nor a bow-hair is out of place.

This served them well in the UK premiere of Timo Andres’s Strong Language at Wigmore Hall. First performed in Baltimore last November, the piece sets out with a straightforward ambition: to demonstrate that just three solid ideas can carry a piece lasting more than 20 minutes.

The first movement, “Middens”, begins in the same spirit of deceptive simplicity, with a melody passing between the instruments. Soon, though, flecks of chromaticism begin to appear, gradually building into a heap of “sonic detritus” in the words of the 30-year-old American composer. That sense of accumulation persists into the second movement, “Origin Story”, which plays out like an extended crescendo. But the third, “Gentle Cycling”, reverses the process, beginning in a clamour of jarring sounds — plucks, squeaks and splutters — then gradually winding down, like the tail end of a long quarrel.

It’s an exciting and cogent piece, albeit one that demands painful levels of control. The Takács players were a good match for it, building incrementally to majestic climaxes while relishing every detail along the way, not least Andres’s undefinable harmonies.

Still, their vitality found a more natural home in the two works bookending the premiere. Beethoven’s String Quartet In D, Op. 18 No. 3, showcased the rhythmic verve and nimbleness for which this Hungarian ensemble is well known, particularly in the Presto, where there was a palpable sense of joy. As for Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, it brimmed with potential energy. The Takács and its sensitive pianist Aleksandar Madžar had the measure of its sudden U-turns, its passion, lurking behind a thin wall of restraint. And at the work’s centre, the expansive Adagio, the musicians managed to plumb ever greater emotional depths, while poised on just the right side of sentimentality.

(Fours out of five stars rating)

© 2018 Takács Quartet