REVIEW: Leamington Music Festival

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Takács String Quartet

Clive Peacock reviews Leamington Music Festival, Takacs Quartet, Royal Pump Room, 9th and 10th May

What a happy coincidence! What chance the long-awaited visit by the Takács String Quartet would continue the ornithological theme of the first part of this year’s Festival? Their opening offering was, conveniently, Haydn’s ‘The Bird’ Quartet in C Op 33 N 3! Haydn’s fondness for giving his works nicknames is highly appropriate for this work – the chirping of the birds is part of a magical opening; the chirping ‘crushed-in’ notes continue to permeate that first movement.

This bright opening work developed into more challenging activity with Shostakovich’s Quartet No 11 in F minor Op 122, a work of seven committed movements, each with its own character, with the memory of his firm friend Shirinsky, a founder member of the Beethoven Quartet in mind. Most impressive is Edward Dusinberre’s leadership and his brilliant playing of the many violin solos of the étude, before handing the reins for the humoresque to Harumi Rhodes playing second violin. Given only two notes to play has its challenges but is designed to portray Shirinsky’s droll sense of humour!

This first of two concerts came alive with Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’ Quartet in C Op 59 No 3, one of the ‘middle’ quartets full of delightful pizzicato playing by cellist, András Fejér. Listening carefully to one another is a distinguishing feature of Takács, and it shows, as the quartet builds to one of Beethoven’s great finales.

Haydn again opened Takács second concert, his Quartet in G Op 76 No 1. This was a highly polished performance, a livelier performance than the previous evening’s ‘The Bird’. Bartok’s Quartet No 6 was well received. And finally, the delivery of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Op 135 was head and shoulders above anything that preceded it. His ‘late’ quartets stand out; 135 being his very last string quartet.

Without doubt, the miraculously beautiful slow movement in the glorious D flat major key was simply wonderfully played. A huge audience response was evidence of the very pleasing performance as a whole, bringing to an end an exceptional week – a treat for the regulars and drawing in quite a few newcomers attracted by the presence of such a successful international team. This last work is a questioning quartet, questioning at the very beginning and returning in the last chirpy movement of a fairly happy quartet. That is the closest to an ornithological link this time!