Four sets of strings, one excellent sound

Music: Formed 25 years ago at Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy, Takacs Quartet has become one of the world's finest.

January 24, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Perhaps it's the echoes of all those gypsy violins wafting in the air.

Whatever the reason, there can be no denying that Eastern Europe has provided remarkably fertile ground for the growth of some of the world's finest string quartets.

And the Takacs Quartet, formed a quarter-century ago in Hungary at Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy where its founding members studied, has become one of the most renowned.

The quartet, which will perform the music of Beethoven and Schubert on the Smith Theatre stage at 8 p.m. Saturday under the aegis of Columbia's Candlelight Concert Society, is based in Boulder, Colo., where it has performed in residence at the University of Colorado since 1983.

The ensemble also maintains residencies at Colorado's Aspen Festival and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.

No quartet has achieved greater success in the recording studio in recent years.

In 1998, the group's integral set of the six bristling quartets by Bela Bartok was judged the Chamber Music Recording of the Year by Gramophon Magazine. That same effort received a Grammy nomination a year later.

Superb renditions of quartets by Haydn and Schubert dot the Takacs' discography. So do first-class performances of works recorded with high-profile collaborators such as violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Ernest Chausson's "Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet"); pianist Andreas Haefliger (Schubert's "Trout Quintet"); and Andras Schiff, who joined them for the three Piano Quartets and F-minor Piano Quintet of Johannes Brahms.

The foursome will be appearing without accompaniment Saturday, but with a pair of quartets by Beethoven and Franz Schubert's Death and the Maiden on the bill, they shouldn't need any help to make their mark.

Beethoven composed string chamber music for all of his creative life, so his 16 quartets read like an autobiography of his turbulent and contentious existence.

His first set of quartets - the six in Opus 18 - were composed in the mid-1790s, when Beethoven, then the new kid on the block in Vienna, took the genre bequeathed him by Haydn and Mozart and made it his.

Opus 18, No. 4, the only quartet of that first batch set in a minor key, and No. 6, famous for the jagged rhythms of its "Scherzo" and the emotionally suggestive harmonies of its final movement, will come to the fore Saturday.

Death and the Maiden, Schubert's best-known string quartet, gets its name from a song the composer had written years earlier.

The quartet's most peaceful moments come from the evocation of that melody in the slow movement. "I am a friend and do not come to punish. You will sleep safely in my arms," the specter whispers to the doomed girl in Schubert's setting of the haunting text penned by poet Matthias Claudius.

Candlelight Concerts presents the Takacs Quartet in concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in Smith Theatre at Howard Community College. General admission tickets are $24; $18 for seniors; and $9 for students. Tickets and details: 410-715-0034 or 301-596-6203.

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