Friends, with strings attached

Takács quartet: Haydn, Brahms and Shostakovich at Playhouse

U.S.-based ensemble regales Friends of Chamber Music. Image: Antamapantahou

Friends don’t let friends write off a frigid Sunday afternoon. So over
500 Friends of Chamber Music (FOCM) braved unseasonable cold last week
to fill up most of the Vancouver Playhouse for a long-awaited matinee.

And the attraction wasn’t even Christmas-themed kiddie fare; rather
the return visit of the Takács Quartet. The FOCM has hosted the group
annually ever since 1982, when the famed string ensemble rebased from
its native Hungary to Colorado.

Over the years, the Takács roster has changed, so that by now cellist
András Fejér is the only holdout from the original foursome. But the
quartet has repeatedly renewed itself with new members, often
recruited from the first chairs of esteemed symphony orchestras. The
current line-up includes first violin Edward Dusinberre, second violin
Harumi Rhodes and violist Geraldine Walther.

Just watching them on the Playhouse stage suggests why such virtuosi would
forsake prestigious symphonic berths to meld into the intimacy of
ensemble work. They visibly revel in each other’s musicianship and the
limpid transparency of the chamber repertoire as they cycle through
quartets from Haydn (D minor, Op. 76, #2) through Shostakovich (D
major, Op. 83, #4) to Brahms (A minor, Op. 51, #2).

No orchestral mishmash for the FOCM. The four-strand weave of each
musical texture is explicitly clear, yet the integration of the voices
is seamless. This magic is even more striking onstage than on disc.
The performers are obviously transported by the music.

The two women swoop and sway in their seats. The men can’t even be
contained in chairs; they’re given cushy piano benches. Even so, they
practically levitate off the upholstery, Dusinberre with the fanciful
flights of his upper register filigree and Fejér with the sheer gusto
of his double stops. Walther anchors all this ornamentation into
fluent melodic lines, which Rhodes punctuates with deft pizzicato.

Haydn and Brahms are well represented in the Takács discography;
Shostakovich less so, but they handled his atonal lyricism with aplomb.
Nevertheless, the group chose to end with the lush romanticism of
Brahms, building up to a rousing canon to send the Friends back out
into the wind-chill.

Plenty more in store from FOCM this season, including a January date
with the Ehnes Quartet and the Smetana Trio in February. March brings
the Emerson String Quartet and the Julliard Quartet, followed by the
Elias Quartet in April. For the full schedule, check out their

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