Review: Takacs, all-star trio, do well by Brahms
July 10, 2010
ASPEN – This was a good week at the Aspen Music Festival for chamber music, and especially Brahms.
On Tuesday night, a Brahms string quintet hit a high point in the hands of the Takacs Quartet. And Wednesday’s all-Brahms special event at Harris Hall found an ad hoc trio comprising violinist Gil Shaham, cellist Lynn Harrell and pianist Akira Eguchi in top form. The program featured three works that Brahms wrote in a flush of inspiration in the summer of 1886. These three true star players subsumed their egos into an impressive collaboration that emphasized the range of colors in this music.
Eguchi was the glue, playing with clarity and a hair-trigger responsiveness to the string players’ phrasing and dynamics. In the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major, Harrell called forth a brawny sound that suggested a full orchestra in the big moments of the opening movement, whittled it down to something angelic in the Adagio, and reveled in the impulsive rhythmic shifts in the third and fourth movements.
In the Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Shaham simply unleashed a purity of tone and pinpoint articulation that let the endless melodies fly. And make no mistake, this sonata is all about melody. It’s not about speed or flash, but proceeds at a slow trot. The trick for the players is to keep it from weighing down, and with Shaham and Eguchi there was no chance of that.
Finally, Shaham, Harrell and Eguchi made a strong case for the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, much less often heard than Brahms’ first two trios, which are staples of the repertory. They brought out the taut drama that runs through the music, biting into the rhythms and fine-tuning dynamics as if on the fly to create a magical sense of improvisation. Most of all, their fearlessness and sense of assurance broke the music from its moorings and let it sail free.
The Takacs Quartet, based in Boulder and longtime favorites at this festival, played a concert Tuesday in which no quartet music was actually performed. With the Takacs’ second violinist, Karoly Schranz, on the sidelines recovering from surgery, the ensemble’s programs here this year cleverly consist of works for smaller and larger numbers. The Takacs’ violinist Edward Dusinberre, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist Andras Fejer can rely on the high level of talent available on the Music Festival’s artist faculty to complete quintets and piano ensembles.
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That paid dividends with Alexander Kerr taking the second violin part and James Dunham the second viola in the final work on Tuesday’s program, Brahms’ String Quintet No. 2 in G major. As one wag commented, these guys seldom play second fiddle to anyone. In Aspen Kerr occupies the concertmaster’s chair in the Chamber Symphony and plays a key role in many ad hoc chamber groups here, as does Dunham.
So it should come as no surprise that their presence fit seamlessly into the Takacs’ warm sound and pure, unaffected music-making. The added richness of Dunham’s viola never made the quintet feel heavy, only adding extra depth to the texture as Dusinberre’s crystalline violin carried the top. The rhythms pulsed with vigor in the outer movements and the interweaving melodic lines breathed naturally in the conversational Adagio. The third movement came off as stately, not at all sluggish. The gypsy flavor of the rondo finale carried enough spice to make a savory splash right to the finish.
In the first half of the program, Dusinberre, Walther and Fejer combined forces for a sprightly romp through Beethoven’s String Trio, notable for the breathless pace of the third movement, marked Presto, and the fast-paced give-and-take of the Scherzo finale. In Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G major, Dusinberre and Walther shaped the lines deftly.
The Takacs Quartet Minus One returns Saturday with more Brahms. Pianist Anton Nel completes the roster for the Piano Quartet No. 2, and Kerr rejoins the party for the Piano Quintet in F minor. The Nielsen Wind Quintet stole the show from piano and string music on Monday’s chamber music program. Faculty artists Mark Sparks on flute, Richard Woodhams on oboe, Theodore Oien on clarinet, Per Hannevold on bassoon and John Zirbel on horn lent a robust sound and fine phrasing to Nielsen’s rhythmic music, only lightly spiced with dissonance.
Not to miss: Sunday’s Festival Orchestra program features pianist Andreas Haefliger in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 and conductor Christian Arming taking on the Mahler Ninth. The Monday evening chamber music program features Cho-Liang Lin, David Finckel and Wu Han in Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat.