Takács Quartet (Ellen Appel)

Founded in 1975 by four students at Hungary’s Franz Liszt Academy, the Takács Quartet has graced the world’s concert halls ever since with dependably-reliable artistry (and a large discography). In all those years, there have been only three personnel changes, two founding members are still in the group, and the present line-up has been in place since 2005. Thus, the musical product is one audiences have come to know and love, as the full and enthusiastic house at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Wednesday attested.

It is hard to capture what I find missing .The quartet’s performance on the surface is unassailable. Intonation is generally good (other than a few spots in rapid passages in the finale of Dvořák’s Quartet No. 14 ), and ensemble and balance problems fully mastered.

All four artists certainly play with vigor; there is no sense of routine in the performances. But there was a certain Hungarian “tang” that the original group had that has been internationalized and smoothed out.Between the Dvorak, the Beethoven Quartet No. 9, and the Anton Webern “Langsamer Satz,” everything had a generic quality. The high-energy body language was often not reflected in the actual sound; in particular, the violence of Beethoven’s dynamic markings – sudden accents or drops in volume – was suppressed. The quirkiness of Dvorak’s rhetoric, where wildly-different musical characters collide, had a corporate blandness. In the slow movement’s reprise, the second violin plays an impish, almost taunting counterpoint to the serene, maternal melody; here it sounded meek and apologetic.

The Webern (a student piece) is a remarkable work, poignantly reminding us what immense talent this composer had before Arnold Schönberg pulled him down into atonality. The “Langsamer Satz” could easily have been written by Bruckner, and the Takács milked its ripe harmonies to their fullest.

The concert was a presentation of the Fortas Chamber Music series.