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Brighton Festival 2023

Takács Quartet at Glyndebourne

Takács Quartet

Genre: Live Music

Venue: Glyndebourne


Low Down

A poignant sense of impermanence pervaded this concert by the world-renowned Takács Quartet.  From the ethereal, mantra-like Summa by Arvo Pärt, through the sparkling early Quartet in B flat by the 17 year old Schubert, and culminating with the darkly wild Quartet in G – his last – written by Schubert at the age of 27 under the shadow of death.  

These were consummate performances of an intriguing election of pieces, all in the glorious setting of Glistening Glyndebourne.


The world-renowned Takács Quartet, originally from Budapest and now based in Boulder, Colorado is now entering its forty-eighth season with current members Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes (violins), Richard O’Neill (viola) and András Fejér (cello).

They are known for their innovative programming, often performing lesser know pieces. A poignant sense of impermanence pervades the selection for today’s concert, along with a tonal progression from simplicity to complexity and from reverence to wild emotion.

We start with the ethereal, mantra-like Summa by Arvo Pärt. A reworking of his work for voices, which set the Christian Credo to music, it retains a choral character along with Pärt’s trademark tonal austerity. The instruments seem to chant and layer their sounds like voices – sometimes in a round; sometimes call-and-response. There is something sad deeply hypnotic about it, but at just 5 over minutes, we do not quite have time – or perhaps do not allow ourselves – to become lost.

We move straight into the sparkling early Quartet in B flat written by the 17 year old Schubert for his family, the minor signature juxtaposed with bright arpeggios and skipping melodies. There are unusual key contrasts, musical cliff hangers, melodic mirroring and at times a delightful rustic charm. The quartet players end the triple-time finale with flamboyant gestures, their bravura echoed in the audience’s response – enthusiastic applause and 2 curtain calls – and we are only half way through.

After the interval, and a wander in the glorious gardens, the performance culminates with the darker, more complex and almost violent Quartet in G, (his last) written by Schubert at the age of 27, under the shadow of his impending death from syphilis. In spite of its intricacy, Schubert’s fifteenth Quartet took him just 11 days to complete. More dramatic and ambitious than his earlier Quartets, with a focus on lyricism over formal structure, it was never performed in his lifetime and only published in 1851, 23 years after his death. The opening Allegro has energy and drama, with opposing G major and minor keys, then relaxes into a momentary calm before rising, led by the cello’s arpeggio to a fierce climax. The Andante has drama and contrast, setting the cello’s initial melancholy melody against contrasting scales and tremolos and later seeming to pitch instrument against instrument. The players lend their physicality to the spectacle, leaning in toward each other and back as the waves of the music rise and fall. In the Scherzo the instruments strike up a spirited conversation, the players’ poise and focus of attention giving them the appearance of master puppeteers of these stringed creatures. As the movement nears an end there is a sonic quality – perhaps partly an artefact of the space – that layers an almost human-sounding voice into the mix. The Allegro finale, with a 2-note tick-tocking of the violins, quasi-operatic rhythms and disturbing shifts to and fro between major and minor keys, infuses it with a heart-stopping quality. It might be the film score to a nightmarish chase in the dark. In contrast, the final bar is more resolution than climax.

Three further curtain calls later, re-emerging into the lush grounds surrounding the concert hall provides a strong counter point to the afternoon’s programme. Perhaps the two experiences combine in something of a wake up call.

A concert like this is a bit of a one-off, and a recommendation to see it of little value after the event. But you can hear the Takács playing the Quartet in G on their album A Selection of Schubert and Brahms.

You might also keep an eye open for their return in future seasons, and look out for other chances like this to picnic in the Glyndebourne grounds on a budget.