Editor’s Choice, Chamber – Jan/Feb 2016

In-between a heavy international concert schedule and fulfilling their teaching commitments as resident ensemble at the University of Colorado in Boulder, it’s a wonder that the Takács String Quartet finds time to record for the Hyperion label, let alone live their lives outside of music. Luckily for us they manage, and hot on the heels of their first recorded venture into the wintry landscape of Soviet Russia and Shostakovich with Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin (reviewed in October‘s Limelight), they bring a contrasting blaze of colour, warmth and emotion with their latest release.

The three works on this disc are custom-made for the Takács with their fearless attack, faultless technique and dazzling emotional range. Just listen to Geraldine Walther’s driving viola work in the first piece, Bedrich Smetana’s From My Life.

This is a remarkable autobiographical work, depicting in the first two movements the Czech composer’s youthful love of art, his fondness for dancing polkas and for folk tunes. The beautiful, yearning slow movement is given over to his first wife, who died from tuberculosis, and two of their daughters who didn’t survive childhood.

Of the finale Smetana wrote: “The fourth movement describes my discovery that I could incorporate national elements in my music and my joy in following this path until it was terminated by the onset of my deafness, the outlook into a sad future, the tiny rays of hope of recovery; but remembering my early career, a feeling of painful regret”. It also contains one of the most poignant moments in chamber music, a high, sustained harmonic E mimicking the tinnitus that announced his loss of hearing.

No less personal are the two quartets by fellow Czech Leoš Janáček – The Kreutzer Sonata, inspired by Tolstoy’s novella – and Intimate Letters, reflecting his long distance-love affair with his friend and muse, Kamila Stösslová.

Here, the constant shifts of rhythm, mood and texture – ghostly bowing near the bridge, rolling trills and shimmering tremolos – are captured beautifully by the twin violins of Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz above the firm foundations laid down by Walther and András Fejér’s cello. 

Recorded at the Concert Hall of the Wyastone Estate in Monmouth, Wales, this is a superbly produced recording from the prestigious British label. You won’t hear these three heart-on-sleeve works performed better anywhere. A crackerjack album from a string quartet who are at the top of their game.