Recitals : TAKACS QUARTET Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
It was just two weeks ago that Takacs Quartet violist Gabor Ormai lost his battle against cancer. His courage and artistry were touchingly commemorated at the Wigmore Hall on Thursday, when the Takacs joined forces with Peter Frankl for the first of two memorial concerts featuring great piano quintets. The programmes could hardly have been more appropriate, as all four quintets (by Brahms, Schumann, Shostakovich and Dvorak) include much poignant viola writing - the Schumann especially.

The Takacs / Frankl alliance is a good one, even if its constituent string parts lack the last ounce of tonal distinction. Still, Roger Tapping served his predecessor's memory well with some nicely phrased solo work, while Frankl projected a bright-toned, youthfully athletic pianistic personality. Brahms's F minor Quintet is a big piece with vociferously argued outer movements, a songful slow movement and a thunderous Scherzo. The latter's balmy trio was positively radiant, while the Takacs' lean yet energetic approach stressed the breadth and drama of Brahms's design. It was a singularly intelligent reading, even when given to excitable confusion (as in parts of the Scherzo). In fact, I was momentarily convinced of a structural similarity between, of all things, the Brahms and Dvorak's Seventh Symphony (composed some 20 years later): even the opening themes suggest something of a common shape.

As to the Schumann, Takacs leader Edward Dusinberre sweetened his tone for what is surely the cosiest of piano quintets. The first movement had a genuine joie de vivre; the second, if initially rather abrupt, donned a mellow countenance, while the Scherzo was more assertive than articulate. A notably spontaneous affair, the performance again benefited from some extremely distinguished piano playing.

Saturday's concert saw a drop in room temperature but an increase in executive vitality. Shostakovich's masterful Quintet received a deeply pondered interpretation: the second movement, a sullen fugue, sounded with an almost Beethovenian gravity, while the loudly protesting Scherzo prompted an excited wave of chatter from the audience. The tragic Intermezzo was played very much con amore, and the finale with due respect for its equivocal nature. Intonation wasn't quite as true as it had been on Thursday, but the level of commitment seemed, if anything, even greater.

Dvorak's A major Quintet fired from the stage with gusto, especially the first movement, whereas the Dumka's final fast section accelerated in a dizzy rush of excitement. The Scherzo's trio harboured beautiful playing from Dusinberre and the closing Allegro (with its references to the finale of Schumann's Quintet) was fuelled by a combination of high energy and tenderness. Again, there was an encore: a second shot at Schumann's Quintet Scherzo which was many times more exhilarating than its Thursday- night predecessor. In fact, one had the distinct feeling that, given time, all five players would have sharpened up their act even further - no mean feat considering that they were pretty good to start with.