Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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April 26, 2008

The Takács Quartet

I am usually not someone who cares much about the whole clapping between movements issue, but I must admit I have my limits. This Thursday was one such example with an appearance from the eminent Takács Quartet at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County. It’s funny how much time insincere, mechanical, social clapping can add to an evening of chamber music. This may be especially true at the Segerstrom, which is too large for this kind of program, though I will admit has started to sound better to me than on the last few visits I have had there in terms of its acoustics. (Or at least it is from where I was sitting.)

The Takáks Quartet is currently on tour around the U.S., and it is always a special treat to hear them play. This is my first opportunity to see the Takács ensemble play live since violist Geraldine Walther took over for the retiring Roger Tapping in 2005, and, I would say, little about their former sound and approach have been lost. They are still remarkably of the same mind and make no bones about playing music with passion and commitment. There is nothing lazy or half-hearted about anything they do, and my memories of their Beethoven performances several years back are quite positive.

Of course, not every piece benefits from the same treatment. The program began with Haydn’s Quartet is G-minor Op.74 No. 3 and followed with the Brahms’ Quartet No.3 in G major. To conclude the program they were joined on stage by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, apparently still in town from last week’s L.A. Phil performances, in Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet in F minor. The Haydn seemed a tad overplayed at times with more murky tones and dark brooding than one might normally associate with the composer. A lighter touch might not have hurt, but again this is a big room that requires big gestures. The Brahm’s faired better and all should be congratulated on such a strong performance.

Franck’s rather melodramatic work for the piano and the quartet was hard to like despite the very detailed and earnest rendition it was given here. All melodramatic zeal, the piece bordered at times on the gothic as opposed to the purely romantic. It was disquieting in a way and left me feeling rather peevish and disturbed. I guess that's an accomplishment in its own right, though. Still, it was good to see the group in such good shape and playing so well. Hopefully we'll see them out this way before not so long next time.

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