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The Takacs Quartet's Haydn: Brilliant, But With A Bite

The Takacs Quartet, continuing to conquer the music of "Papa" Haydn.
Ellen Appel
courtesy of the artists
The Takacs Quartet, continuing to conquer the music of "Papa" Haydn.

For string quartet lovers, a new release by the Takács Quartet is always reason to celebrate. In recent years, their vividly intense recordings of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, not to mention Bartok and Beethoven, have continued to garner the huge acclaim that has become the nearly default critical response over some three decades.

"Papa" Haydn's genial string quartets might seem to offer a tad less sturm und drang than much of the music at which the Takacs excel. But this album offers brilliance — with a bite.

This recording of the Op. 71 quartets was released simultaneously with the Takács' album of Haydn's Op. 74 quartets. It's not overdrive — this is a pairing that makes a great deal of progamming sense. Despite their different publishing numbers, Haydn wrote the three quartets of Op. 71 and the three of Op. 74 as one group, and all were commissioned by one Count Anton Apponyi.

The six "Apponyi" quartets were composed in 1793 in Vienna just after Haydn made his first visit to London — where, for the very first time, the composer heard his music played for the public, rather than in performances restricted to invitees of the Esterházy court. Haydn — knowing that he had to do perhaps a bit more "selling" of his works for a broader public — responded with flashier writing and even more catchy tunes than what he wrote for his royal audiences:

There's so much sunniness to these works, but the Takács Quartet deepens the musical flavor with a hint of acidity, just as adding lemon juice to a cooked dish adds a tart, bright note without disturbing the harmonious balance of flavors. The energy this foursome creates is both fierce and joyous, and the way they play with both effortless buoyancy and absolute clarity is a total delight.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.