Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his string quartets during three distinct outbursts of creativity. Saturday night at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall, the Takacs Quartet began a six-performance cycle of all 16 of these quartets by playing one work from each period. If the concert was any indication, this series should be highly rewarding for those wishing to explore -- or merely enjoy -- the great romantic composer's genius.
The evening began with his third string quartet, Opus 18, No. 2. The piece calls to mind an 18th century court celebration, complete with powdered wigs and rococo costumes -- but the Takacs performed it as if at a boisterous garden party just outside the palace walls. The earthy immediacy helped keep the results lively, even though the ensemble's rough, modern sound is not perfectly consonant with this frothy Viennese confection.
Next came the Quartet "Serioso," Opus 95. This final work from Beethoven's second period was written around the time of his breakup with a lover. Many ensembles use that fact as a justification to take the piece's wild swings of emotion completely over the top. The Takacs, however, showed great restraint, building the tension slowly and conveying the music's fury without flash. Instead of simply hearing Beethoven's torment, the audience could feel it.
The evening concluded with Opus 130, with the revised allegro ending. Appropriately, the Takacs did not ignore its wit and buoyancy, but their rich, orchestral sound made it smolder with intensity. They took an extended pause before beginning the heartbreaking Cavatina -- only to halt the performance because of a noisy cricket that somehow got into an air vent.
The Schoenberg staff responded quickly, though, somehow silencing the chirping guest and allowing the musicians to continue. Most in the audience would probably have been happy if they had started all over again.