In the world of string quartets, the Takács Quartet represents a highly idealized concept of sound and ensemble. The group, founded in Budapest in 1975 and currently in residence in Colorado and London, performed Brahms, Shostakovich and Debussy Sunday afternoon at the Independence Seaport Museum.
Had only Brahms been performed (it was the String Quartet in A minor), the Takács might have come across as just another of the many fine string quartets hosted by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. But their Debussy and Shostakovich made you want to take these interpretations home to consider over and over again. It's the rarest kind of concert that does this - that creates a musical event every few bars, that continually uncovers ideas and feelings in a piece played so many times routinely that you've begun to wonder whether you had forgotten how to love it.
The Debussy is like that. The composer's lone entry in the genre, the Quartet in G minor, gets played all the time. But I hope not to hear it again for a while so I can think back on all the ways violinist Edward Dusinberre manipulated his sound. He's one of those musicians who are not afraid to take chances, and he has a healthy admiration for schmaltz - in the right places. With the most judiciously paced slide from one note to the other, he raised certain phrases from craft to art.
What's so striking about the Takács is that each player embraces the idea of big individualism in solos, but in ensemble work they are absolutely like-minded. In the Debussy, and Shostakovich's String Quartet in F minor (Op. 122) (from 1966), violist Geraldine Walther seemed to come with her own resonance chamber. Her sound had a wonderfully large presence, except that she could turn on a dime when called upon to defer to something more important going on.
Violinist Károly Schranz and cellist András Fejér - the two remaining original members of the group - are perhaps the more quiet artistic personalities. But they were at every turn solid and polished, and seemed like the glue that turned Debussy and Shostakovich into a singular vision.