Programme. String Quartet in B flat Major by Johannes Brahms. Two Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 11. by Dmitri Shostakovitch. String Quartet in B flat Major by Ludwig van Beethoven Op.130 with Grosse Fugue
Date, March 11th. 2008
The Takács String Quartet came to Vancouver during the regular annual chamber music series containing world wide names and put on by the Friends of Chamber Music. I have very much enjoyed the series so far and I was fascinated to listen to the approach by the players to the music, and to observe their general deportment.
Although I have attended many concerts my real performance knowledge has been gained through playing the double bass in symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, operas and chamber music such as Schubert’s Trout Quintet and Octet, Beethoven’s Septet, Spohr’s Octet, Prokofiev’s Quintet, Rossini’s Duo for cello and bass etc.; so besides the music I feel I have to mention stage deportment.
An older, very famous quartet came on stage. Two of the men’s shoes weren’t of the shiny black type patent leather evening shoe, they needed to be cleaned. One showed an expanse of bare calf. A violinist came onstage showing a huge expanse of belly, which I thought a cummerbund could have covered. At another concert a violinist came on in street clothes claiming that his dress clothes had been lost by the airline. This happened to me a couple of times and I managed to search around, on one occasion borrowing dress clothes from one of the board and another going to a dress hire shop. I missed my dinner, but I knew I wouldn’t be allowed on the platform if I weren’t dressed properly. Maybe the violinist did try and was unsuccessful, but I think that sort of thing takes away something special that the audience is expecting. It is the phantasmagoria that counts.
But, back to the music. To me, sitting in the audience, some of the groups gave no light or shade. It seemed to be all one level of sound, no diminuendi, and no rubati (literally robbed, playing it with license in various selected bars) and some committed the crime of playing a crescendo on the last, final note of a piece with a great flourish and crescendo!
But with the Takács it was all there. A shimmering sound both very soft and then loud at the right places, a good attack and a very good ensemble. When, say, the violist had a little solo, the others immediately died down to let her through. They listened and watched each other the whole time. Moreover they looked very well turned out on stage.
The series still has two more to run which I am eagerly awaiting but I regret to have to say that some of the older, more established quartets seem to be resting on their laurels and they shouldn’t do that. Throughout my career it was always drummed into me that you are only as good as your last concert.