A full house at St George’s was spoilt with some seriously fantastic music in this concert. String quartets don’t come much better than the Takács Quartet. Versatile, passionate, and technically very accurate, there was a real quality of care that went into their performance. They had their ears close to their instruments, to tune in to every note, to give the audience the best sound possible. As a result, the music felt selfless and as though it was being offered to everyone in the room for their own personal listening. It was almost as though a cosy fire had been made on stage because the warmth that was generated in the music was homely and welcoming. The quartet was formed in 1975 by Gabor Takács-Nagy, Károly Schranz, Gabor Ormai and András Fejér, who were all students at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. Two original members (Károly Schranz playing second violin and András Fejér) still remain and were joined in 1993 by Edward Dunsiberre (first violin) and, most recently, Geraldine Walther (viola) in 2005.

Takács Quartet © Peter Smith
Takács Quartet
© Peter Smith

The performance of Ravel’s String Quartet in F stood out as being the best of the night. The second movement (Assez vif – Très rhytmé) was absolutely captivating, with a soaring violin melody over punctuated pizzicato strings. It was full of energy and life and will remain one of the most memorable performances for a long time. Ravel wrote this quartet in 1903, and it was the only one he ever composed. The main themes are passed between the four different movements and the placement of a pizzicato scherzo as a second movement is rather similar to the Debussy quartet, to which it was compared at its première. But where Debussy’s work is more harmonic in nature, Ravel’s String Quartet in F is more motivically and thematically driven.

The programme was an insight into how flexible and effective a string chamber ensemble can truly be, and was definitely enough to convince anyone who was unsure about this. The close timbre of the instruments provided a unique unity of sound that added substance to the music heard in the concert. The established cellist Ralph Kirshbaum joined the quartet as the fifth element for the Schubert quintet after the interval. Schubert’s String Quintet in C is a wonderful example in highlighting the flexibility possible in writing for strings, and also proves it is possible to reflect a huge number of different emotions and styles in one piece. This performance had everything, from a slow Adagio where time stood still, to an Allegretto, which was full of life and with a folk-influenced theme and rhythmic drive.

The first piece of the night, also by Schubert, was his Quartettsatz in C minor. This represented Schubert’s maturity in his approach to writing for string quartet, and contained bursts of excitement through a river of calm. It was suitably chosen to open the concert as it had impact and a sense of false security. Once again, the Takács Quartet’s performance of this was faultless. Listening to conversations around me between pieces, people clearly enjoyed this concert. This opinion was confirmed by the roars of delight and applause at the end.