Monday, November 29, 2010


Bliss was it

Some like concerts by orchestra, some choral, others opera but for many of us a good concert by a string quartet is our idea of heaven. The programme played by the Takács on November 10 in the Queen Elizabeth Hall was perfection itself; it was a pleasure and a privilege to be in the audience.

Two points about the string quartet that struck me are 1) that the quartet repertory is more consistently superior – which is why players stick to quartet playing even though the rewards do not compare with those of other branches of performing, and 2) quartets rehearse far more often than, say, orchestral musicians do. The programme of the Takács was an appetising and satisfying one; Haydn in E flat, opus 77/3, Shostakovich no. 2 and Mendelssohn’s A minor, opus 13. Haydn at his most mature, this was music about music, nothing to do with his private life or emotions, just genial music by a genius.

The Shostakovich is the one where the first movement is labelled Overture; the second is recitatives and cadenza, followed by a theme and variations. There are violent changes of scenery in this work: the music jogs along and then suddenly you are in strange, positively dangerous straits, you wonder where on earth you are going, and then suddenly the sun comes out and you know why he went the way he did.

Was there ever such marvel as the teenage Mendelssohn? The Octet, the overture to Shakespeare’s Dream and the A minor Quartet, opus 13, before he was eighteen. Surely he eclipses Mozart, Britten, Shostakovich (and the infant Crotch)? Also remarkable about the Quartet is that young Felix incorporates memories and near quotes of the late Beethoven quartets, his A minor in particular. And he also puts in code messages and references to a girl that he was in love with (Betty Pistor seems to have been her name).

I came across the result of a cranium scan of Felix taken at that time. “Rather greedy, fond of young children and flirtatious, although music seems to be his chief interest in life”. Hum!

This A minor quartet is surely the work of a genius, completely perfect in shape and content with those typical qualities of Felix the Great, of an ecstatic joyous quickly moving thrust.

Photo by Ellen Appel

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