Out last night to hear the Takács Quartet at the Peterhouse Theatre here in Cambridge (which seats under 200, has a wonderful acoustic, and must be one of the very best places to hear chamber music in England).
I hugely admire some of the Quartet’s recordings, but this was perhaps a more mixed experience (though I’m judging by their own exalted standards).
The programme began with a performance of Schubert’s Quartettsatz which took a while to settle and catch fire but ended in good form.
After the interval, the Takács played the first of Beethoven’s Rasumovsky quartets: and, compared with their fine recorded performance, this was — if truth be told — slightly disappointing. Quite independently, we both thought that there were balance issues. Edward Dusinberre’s first violin was rather too forward, too prominent, the tone not quite melding with the others (interestingly, I notice that reviewers of some other recent concerts have made similar comments). And the transcendental slow movement was I thought a little underplayed (not exactly rushed, but perhaps not allowed quite enough space). Three-and-a-half stars, not five.
But in between — and this more than made the evening — there was a truly stunning performance of the Debussy Quartet. I don’t know if the Takács are working up to record it in the studio, but they gave their heart and soul to the playing in a way which made for utterly compelling listening. I haven’t heard the Debussy for some years (the CDs recently untouched — which I’ll now have to rectify!), and it must be all of twenty years since we last heard this live, played by the Lindsays. But the performance last night was a revelation, which made an answerable case for the stature of the Debussy as a truly great work, and the Takács here more than showed why, on their day, they are almost without peer.