Takács Quartet features Mendelssohn siblings in spring concert series

Retiring violist Geraldine Walther will be honored for her years with the quartet

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Takács Quartet
Amanda Tipton Photography

Programs featuring string quartets by sister and brother Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (Jan. 12-13) and Felix Mendelssohn (May 3-4) will form the bookends of the spring concert series by the Takács Quartet at the University of Colorado.

In between (March 8-9) will be a program recognizing the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Other composers on the bill over the three programs will be Mozart, Haydn and Brahms.

The programming of quartets by the siblings Mendelssohn comes about partly from a planned recording by the Takács Quartet that will include both pieces, but it also reflects the music’s history. “The Felix Mendelssohn quartet that we’re playing was written just after Fanny died, and he dedicated it to her,” Edward Dusinberre, the quartet’s first violinist, explains. “It’s also his last quartet, and he died very soon after that.

“That’s a nice link between the two pieces, which will form the nucleus of our next recording.”

Dusinberre also admits to a personal reason for choosing Mendelssohn. “One of the great pieces in the violin repertoire is the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. I just love Mendelssohn. It’s nice to play some of his quartets as well.”

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel was a very talented pianist and composer, but as a woman in the early 19th century she was not able to have a career as performer or composer. Her father in particular opposed both. Felix helped her by having some of her music published under his name, but otherwise most of her music was unknown outside family circles.

Dusinberre describes her String Quartet as a “very warm and very Romantic piece. The last movement is very exciting, in an uplifting, lively, fun sort of way. It’s music that’s very immediate and speaks clearly in terms of its emotional content.”

Her Quartet will share the January program with two late works of Mozart, the D-major String Quartet, K575, and the Clarinet Quintet for clarinet and strings, K581. CU music faculty member and clarinetist Daniel Silver will join the Takács for the quintet.

“The Clarinet Quintet doesn’t come up in our repertoire very frequently,” Dusinberre says. “It’s an incredible piece, [clarinetists] are lucky to have that. And Dan has a very pure, serene and even sound, which is very well suited to this piece.”

The second concert of the series (March 8-9) will open with a quartet by Beethoven’s teacher, Haydn’s Quartet in C major, Op. 54 No. 2, followed by two Beethoven’s quartets, the early Op. 18 No. 6, from 1799-1800, and the late Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131, written in 1826 and considered one of his greatest works.

The Haydn and early Beethoven quartets on the program are classical-style works, lighter in tone than Romantic works from later in the 19th century. Dusinberre particularly likes the Haydn Op. 54 No. 2, because it has a gypsy-styled slow movement that is fun to play. Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 2, he says, “is very refined, and also has a great sense of humor about it.”

Those two works make a strong contrast with Op. 131, which is entirely by design. “I think Op. 131 should really be its own concert,” Dusinberre says. “It’s such a mammoth piece that in terms of balancing the program, you don’t want anything too big before the intermission.”

The May 3-4 program opens with another Beethoven, Op. 18 No. 6, followed by Felix Mendelssohn’s Quartet in F minor, Op. 80 — the one dedicated to his sister. “That’s an incredible piece,” Dusinberre says. “It’s very dramatic and stormy, and very virtuosic.”

“Mendelssohn was devastated by the loss [of his sister]. It’s a very exciting piece to listen to, and very concise. It packs a lot of material into a short space of time — this piece is like a massive punch.”

The final piece on the May program will also be the final piece violist Geraldine Walther will play with the Takács on the CU campus. She will retire from the quartet at the end of May, following performances at the Prague Spring Festival.

To honor Walther at her last campus concert as a member of Takács, the quartet has invited another faculty member whom Walther has worked closely with over the years to join in the performance, violist Erika Eckert. Together, they will perform Brahms’ String Quintet in G minor, Op. 111, which calls for string quartet and an extra viola.

“It’s an homage to Gerri [Walther] and the wonderful work we’ve done together in the last 15 years,” Dusinberre says. “She and Erika [Eckert] have had a very close relationship, and we’ve played a lot with Erika over the years, so it’s nice for her to celebrate the collaboration that we’ve had over the years.  

ON THE BILL: All performances in Grusin Hall of the Imig Music Building on the CU campus. For a full schedule and ticket availability, visit takacsquartet.com