The University of Colorado’s Takacs String Quartet, one of Boulder’s musical treasures, will play a program of music by Mozart, Bartók and Dvořák Sunday and Monday, Sept. 7 and 8.
A second program featuring Bartók again, plus Beethoven and Mendelssohn, will be performed Oct. 27–28. The two fall concerts are part of five Sunday–Monday pairs that the Takacs will play on campus during the year. Programs have not yet been announced for the three spring concerts.
Tickets are available for a subscription series that includes concerts by the Tesla Quartet Nov. 10-11. For ticket information, contact the box office at 303-492-8008.
The programming of Bartók—Quartet No. 4 in September, and the earlier Quartet No. 2 in October—reflects the quartet’s plans to play the full cycle of six Bartók quartets on tour. The Takacs has not played Bartók recently, and the choice to play the full cycle comes at an interesting time in the group’s history.
Founded in 1975 by four Hungarian musicians—violinists Gábor Takács-Nagy and Károly Schranz, violist Gábor Omai and cellist András Fejér—the Takacs Quartet was known for its performances of music by the Hungarian Bartók. But the membership has changed, and with the addition last year of second violinist Harumi Rhodes, only Fejér remains of the original members, alongside first violinist Edward Dusinberre and violist Geraldine Walther.
You might expect that the gradual transformation from an all-Hungarian ensemble would change the interpretation, but Dusinberre says that’s not what happened. “From inside the group, that’s not how it feels,” he says.
“When someone really good joins, there’s a clarifying process. Naturally over time you get used to the way of playing certain things. It’s a delicate balance with someone new, and Harumi’s great at it. She’s able to respect the tradition and also ask, ‘Why do you do that?’
“It’s a process of distillation, that the interpretation becomes clearer.”
In its structure, harmonies, rhythms and folk-influenced melodies, the Fourth Quartet has all the hallmarks of Bartók’s mature style. “It’s got everything in it,” Dusinberre says. “What I particularly love is the way, like a play, the characters evolves from the first movement to the last.”
The same material appears in the first and last movements, and the second and fourth. This creates the “arch” form with the third movement as the keystone. “For me the fun is that the arch form allows one to feel the transformation of the material from first note to the last,” Dusinberre says.
Sharing the September program is Mozart’s String Quartet in C major, K465, known as the “Dissonance” Quartet for its unusual harmonies in the introduction. “We haven’t played it for a while, [and] when you go back—I’m just amazed by it,” Dusinberre says. “The more I play Mozart, the more I’m interested by what lurks beneath a surface that is very refined—the darker moments that come up throughout the piece.”
Finishing the September program will be Dvořák’s String Quartet in F major op 96, composed in Spillville, Iowa, in 1893 and known as the “American” Quartet. “There’s just incredible tunes in that piece, “Dusinberre says. Reflecting its origin on the American prairie, he says, “although we’re performing it in a concert hall, it should sound as if it’s in the open air.”
The October program comprises early works that are generally lighter and more amiable than the first program. Beethoven’s String Quartet in D major, op. 18 no. 3, is actually the first quartet that he wrote. “It’s a delightful piece,” Dusinberre says. “You hear totally Beethoven’s voice, but you [also] hear the influence of Haydn in the last movement, [and] the lyricism of Mozart in the first.
“It’s magical that you can hear the influence of the people he imitated, and his own genius.”
Bartók wrote his Second Quartet right after collecting eastern European folk music, and that activity was reflected in the music. “It can be dramatic but there’s a tremendous energy and vitality to it,” Dusinberre says. “That’s the thing about Bartok studying folk music—he got a tremendous inspiration in his own work, but it’s more than that. He’s celebrating the way of life.
“Going into villages, recording singers, going to festivals, weddings—that was almost a greater passion for him than composing.”
Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2, written when the composer was 18, will close the program. “He wrote it the year that Beethoven died, and it’s a memorial,” Dusinberre says. It includes little snippets from late Beethoven string quartets, which Dusinberre says is “like someone at a memorial service showing their favorite photos.”
In playing the quartet, he says, “to be aware of the emotion behind it is very touching, the way this young man pays homage to Beethoven.”
ON THE BILL: Takács Quartet, 2019 Fall Concerts:
4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9
Mozart: String Quartet No. in C Major, K465 (“Dissonance”)
Bartók: String Quartet No. 4
Dvořák: String Quartet F Major, Op. 96 (“American”)
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27 and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, op. 18 no. 3
Bartók: String Quartet No. 2
Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2
All performances in Grusin Music Hall, CU Boulder. Tickets:303-492-8008 or cupresents.org/ticket-info.