Unifying elements were not hard to find in the program that the Takacs String Quartet offered Sunday afternoon in the Coleman Chamber Music series in Beckman Auditorium at Caltech. For one thing, Eastern European themes and styles proved a common thread.
Bartok's music may not actually require a native Hungarian ensemble, but the Takacs foursome gave his Sixth Quartet a rare degree of naturalness. Rhythm particularly had a spontaneous lilt and kinetic snap to it. And perfect balances let every nuance of this highly charged performance be heard.
The group has fast, fiery violinists in Gabor Takacs-Nagy and Karoly Schranz, and an exceptionally warm sounding middle and low end in violist Gabor Ormai and cellist Andras Fejer. Takacs-Nagy is clearly the leader, a swaying, bobbing musician who makes an armless, straight-backed chair seem confining.
He is also prone to underline accents with explosive toe taps or outright stomps. The artist, we are told, must not be inhibited. But whatever was gained in unfettered expression, was undermined--along with his comrades' more restrained efforts--by the frequent interruptions.
The ethnicity of Beethoven's setting of a Russian theme in the finale of Opus 59, No. 1, is more titular than real. The Takacs players, however, are quite capable of a well-blended, cosmopolitan sound. An overly heavy, stodgy Scherzo aside, they produced a sure, poised reading of great sensual beauty.
Most of the problems besetting Haydn's Quartet in D minor, Opus 76, No. 2, appeared to be due to its opening position. Intonation and ensemble quickly improved, although an emphasis on linear clarity--sometimes at the expense of homogeneity--seems a Takacs feature. Takacs-Nagy's wide vibrato was out-of-place, and even the Gypsy finale sounded over-done.