Above, the players of the Takács Quartet, photographed by Keith Saunders: from left, Károly Schranz, András Fejér, Geraldine Walther, and Edward Dusinberre
Thursday March 9th, 2017 - After suffering for two days from an acute bout of sciatica, I medicated myself as much as I dared in order to hear this program by the Takács Quartet at Alice Tully Hall tonight. The New York Philharmonic's esteemed principal clarinetist Anthony McGill joined the Takács for the opening work of the evening: the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. Following the interval, works by Haydn and Ravel were to be performed by the Takács Quartet.
Above: Anthony McGill
In the event, as I half-expected, I was only able to last thru the first half. One of the problems with sciatica - such a random and unpredictable affliction - is that, the longer you sit, the more painful standing up will be. At any rate, it was worth the effort to hear a truly lovely rendering of the Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet; and for its duration, pain was forgotten: the healing beauty of great music.
Johannes Brahms had seemingly retired from writing music, but when he heard clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (1856-1907) play the Weber concerto, Brahms felt inspired and began composing two chamber music workshat featured the clarinet: a trio and a quintet. Lucky for those of us who draw deep and special pleasure from chamber music, as both these works are among the most enduringly beautiful of all Brahms’ works. I suspect that if Brahms, via a time-warp, could have heard Anthony McGill, still more clarinet works would be in his catalog.
That the Takács Quartet and Anthony McGill would be a felicitous match-up was evident from the start: Mr. McGill is a player who revels in the subtleties of music, and the Takács players are expert colorists, with a blend of voices that falls ever-so-lovingly on the ear. Together, the five created some wonderfully translucent textures, most notably in the Quintet's heartfelt Adagio.
In the more florid phrases of the faster movements, Mr. McGill's virtuosity dazzled in both its clarity and its subtle allure. Edward Dusinberre's cordial playing of the opening violin theme of the Adagio was particularly appealing; he and Mr. McGill seemed at times to be conversing elegantly with one another. Meanwhile, the lower voices of the Takács sounded warm and mellow. An unfortunate cellphone intrusion just at the music's most affecting moments must have been as jarring to the players as to their audience; they persevered admirably.
The Quintet's final Con moto is in a 'theme and variations' mode. Here we could savor both the individual voices of the players as they passed melodies from one to another, and admire the flowing harmonies which Brahms has offered them.
This excellent performance drew an enthusiastic response from the packed house, with the five musicians called out for a richly-deserved second bow. I really regretted having to miss the concert's second half, but as I struggled down the stairs to the subway I knew the decision to head home was the right one.
To make amends for this half-concert, I am now eyeing an all-Beethoven concert by the Takács Quartet at Tully Hall on April 13th; hopefully by then, this sciatic episode will be just painful memory.