The regular visits of the Takacs Quartet used to be one of the highlights of Washington’s cultural life, because the group played in a venue with some of the best acoustics for chamber music in the city, the auditorium at the Corcoran Museum of Art. The quartet was last there in 2008, and the Corcoran has since downsized its chamber music concert series into nonexistence, made official this season. In the past couple of years, the Takacs Quartet has tried out other venues in the area, never quite finding such a good match for its sound. Until Tuesday night, that is, when the group made its long-overdue debut on the Fortas Chamber Music series in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.
Being part of the “Music of Budapest, Prague and Vienna” festival at the Kennedy Center gave the esteemed quartet the excuse to play one of the Bartok string quartets, as if it needed one. There is no group, live or on disc, I would rather hear in these densely constructed, challenging, but rewarding pieces. The players attacked the Fourth Quartet with a bite in the tone but never overbearing harshness.
The paired Scherzo movements, in second and fourth position, were twin furious dances, almost buzzing through the mutes used throughout the second and exploding with force amid the delicacy of the Pizzicato fourth. The two founding members, second violinist Karoly Schranz and cellist Andras Fejer, remain the Hungarian heart and soul of the Takacs Quartet, heard nowhere more clearly than in the folk-song-like solos for their instruments in the slow movement.
Fine performances of two Viennese quartets did not attain quite the same level of excellence, with Schubert’s single-movement “Quartettsatz” (D. 703) disarrayed by tempo disagreements and some slightly jumbled playing from first violinist Edward Dusinberre. Half of the challenge with Beethoven’s monumental Op. 131 quartet is to hold the listener’s attention throughout its labyrinthine twists and turns of form, which the Takacs certainly did.
Downey is a freelance writer.