Sometimes a performance is simply so nearly perfect that a fair-minded reviewer can only react by trying to come up with words of praise sufficiently varied to not grow tedious. Such was Lawrence’s Lied Center April 11 recital by the Takacs String Quartet.
Of course no string quartet could be perfect playing the Lied Center. Chamber music needs to be played, well, in a chamber, and the Lied is a cavern about as big as Bramlage, vast enough to swallow sound before it can travel from stage to the upper balcony nosebleed bleachers. But if you’re down on orchestra level and close enough in, you can largely ignore all that space behind you and pretend your surroundings are intimate.
Venue problems aside, the Takacs’ all-Beethoven program came as a most welcome reminder of what gives great music, produced and experienced live, its uniquely transformative power. To leave a hall buoyed by the sensory assurance that timeless values truly can nourish the spirit is a gift beyond measure.
I’ve been known to voice my concern over a lack of balance in programing, so wouldn’t a recital of nothing but works by Beethoven lack variety? Not when the medium is string quartet and the composer is Beethoven. And especially not when the three works played are Op. 18, No. 6 (early period), Op. 135 (late period), and Op. 59, No. 3 (middle period). Can’t ask for more diversity than that.
Add the Takacs’ beautifully measured response to this diversity and the result is a demonstration of sensitivity exceptional even among celebrated quartets. Some interpreters seek to emphasize the emotional force of the score and end with coarse and ragged savagery, but the Takacs manages to reveal the music’s bite without any ugly barking.
Other ensembles often seem bent on establishing the uniqueness of their readings by exaggerating both tempos and dynamics. The Takacs rises above such antics and, seemingly knowing they have nothing to prove, goes responsibly about the serious business of serving the composer with all the skill and wisdom at their command.
The pleasure of watching a unified and disciplined quartet like the Takacs perform is always enhanced by witnessing the players’ own appreciation of the music they’re making. In particular, first violinist Edward Dusinberre’s restrained physical responses served to affirm his understanding of and commitment to the sense of the notes he was translating for our benefit.
One final positive: our audience was not only respectfully quiet and attentive, nobody in the smallish crowd (enough to fill All Faiths Auditorium, maybe, but only a smattering in Lied) let loose a single disruptive cough-not even during the soft cadences of the slow movements. As I say, a near perfect evening.