Takács Quartet @ Libby Gardner Hall 10.11.12

Posted October 15, 2012 in

Photo: Richard Houghton

 I'm not typically one to find myself in a chamber hall, nor am I one to actively seek out a performance of a quartet. When opportunity finds me, however, I revel in the acoustics of a well designed music hall that would make Fibonacci proud, allowing the sounds of the instruments to pulse through me and take over my thoughts for a few hours. The Takács Quartet, as the first performance of the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake's season, was certainly no exception to this indulgence. The string instruments bathed my ears throughout the night with smooth, structured sounds that calmed my anxious thoughts and perked my curiosity. 

What you may be asking yourself, or at least what I found asking myself before I went to the performance, was what exactly chamber music is, as opposed to, say, a symphony. Basically, chamber music is performed in smaller halls and theaters (in the olden days, performances took place in a salon), and is meant for a much smaller crowd, making the overall experience an intimate gathering of friends. As such, the Libby Gardner Hall was definitely a proper venue: While the quartet still had plenty of room to spare on the stage, their performance was so rich with spirit and animation that it never overwhelmed. The acoustics of the space allowed audience members sitting anywhere to be able to hear just as well as if you were seated in the front row, which doubtlessly contributed to the intimacy that comes along with a chamber music performance. 
The Takács Quartet started in 1975 at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, and currently claims its home at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The Quartet has been the recipient of numerous awards, nationally and internationally, most recently receiving the 2011 award for Chamber Music and Song from the Royal Philharmonic Society in London. As of May of this year, it is currently the only string quartet to be inducted into the Hall of Fame established by Gramophone Magazine. With these credentials, it was indisputable that the members were going to put on a solid performance. 
The first piece was the Quartet in D Major, Op. 76, No. 5 by Haydn. Beginning with the Allegreto, Allegro set the tone for what I would probably imagine typical of salon music: light, merry and lively. To begin the night with this piece felt natural, as the players showed their direct connection to the music through movement of the body matching the rhythm of their instruments. This quartet was apparently the last complete set that Haydn composed in his life, and was first performed in 1797. The rest of the movements, which followed sonata form in the second and fourth movement (with irregularities), a minuet and trio in the third, went through a broad range of emotions. The second movement, Largo: Cantabile e mesto, is often referred to as the "Famous Largo," as it implies a spiritual exaltation. As such, the apotheosis of this piece found its way in the Finale: Presto as it concluded with a repetition of the theme heard in the beginning.
Continuing with the program led to the Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, D. 804, "Rosamunde" by Franz Schubert. Juxtaposed with the previous piece, this was laden with themes of death, sorrow and sickness. To put it in context, Schubert wrote this piece while he was sick with a fatal disease, and felt overwhelmed with feelings of self-doubt and discouragement. To put it in another context, you may recognize this piece from the scene where Loki raids the fancy-ass party at the museum during The Avengers. This piece is fierce, and it fits well with those moods of pending fear. 
To conclude the night was by far my favorite piece: Quartet No. 4 by Bartók. This piece was written in 1930, and definitely had a lot more of a modern and experimental feel to it. Certain techniques, including fingerboarding (not to be confused with those tiny skateboards that you can roll around the dinner table), required entirely new notations invented by Bartók. This piece was based on an arch structure, where the first and last, second and fourth movements hold similarities, while the third piece stands solo. Parts of it felt similar to what a warm up for a symphony sounds like, all chaotic and nonsense, yet it would suddenly come together to make a coherent arrangement. While some have claimed that his pieces conform to mathematical proportions such as the Fibonacci sequence, heptatonic scales or polymetrics, Bartók claimed that he used only intuition and instinct in writing, allowing the music to "speak for itself." 
The performance was so well received that the musicians were called on for an encore, and the atmosphere was filled with congeniality throughout the audience. I look forward to seeing what the Chamber Society has lined up for the rest of the season, and am sure that the upcoming performances will be equally promising. Be sure to check out the lineup at cmsofslc.org!
Photo: Richard Houghton Photo: Richard Houghton