The Takács Quartet, up for two Grammy Awards on Feb. 23, perform tomorrow at Orvis Auditorium.

Quartet delivers
classical quality

A renowned group will
perform at Orvis Auditorium

By Gary C.W. Chun

In the rarefied world of classical music, huzzahs and accolades from your peers are commonplace for a renowned and respected ensemble as the Takács Quartet.

Takács Quartet

Where: Orvis Auditorium, University of Hawaii at Manoa
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow
Tickets: $24 general, $15 students
Call: 956-3836

Ah, but when you're nominated for a Grammy award or two, your respected, if rather staid, profile takes on an edge of -- shall we say -- mainstream celebrity. (Gasp!)

Such is the position of this Hungarian-English ensemble, now in its 28th year of existence. The quartet's recording of the middle quartets of the Beethoven cycle was nominated Tuesday in the categories of Best Classical Album and Best Chamber Music Performance. Released last May, this first of a slated three volumes has already won acclaim from Japanese and American chamber music organizations and received Gramophone magazine's prestigious Chamber Recording of the Year for 2002.

The quartet -- violinists Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violist Roger Tapping and cellist András Fejér -- is no stranger to the Grammy Awards, with its recording of Bartok's string quartets nominated in 1999. In fact, Bartok's String Quartet No. 4 will be part the Honolulu program, also featuring part of their core repertoire of Mozart and Schubert.

Dusinberre, who replaced the group's namesake Gabor Takács-Nagy 10 years ago, remembers Hawaii as one of the stops of his first tour as a Takács member, although he admits "it's a bit of a fog."

Speaking by phone Monday from the group's home base in Boulder, Colo., Dusinberre is one of two English members of the quartet (the other, Tapping, replaced Gabor Ormai, who died in '94). Ormai, Takács-Nagy and remaining members Schranz and Fejér originally met during their studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, Hungary.

Dusinberre graduated from the Royal College of Music in London in 1990 and was awarded a medal for "most outstanding student." He received scholarships to study at Juilliard under the stern tutelage of the late Dorothy DeLay (who counted acclaimed violinist Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg as one of her charges), and has been playing first violin with the Takács Quartet for the last decade or so.

ONE REASON for the quartet's appeal is its ability to transcend its native Hungarian identity. "The ensemble was successful even before Roger and I joined the group," Dusinberre said.

"Whatever was perceived as being uniquely Hungarian about the quartet ended up being a lot more universal in appeal. The musicians were able to communicate with tremendous dynamism and warmth, and they were able to pick players like Roger and I that would adhere to the same tradition and values.

"While the quartet has changed in some respects -- after all, we're four different individuals, and our ways of phrasing are just as different -- the spirit of the quartet is very much alive and kicking. It's not like we're playing it safe."

A perfect example of that would be the pieces they've chosen to play tomorrow. Bartok's fourth string quartet is meant to draw the audience into his music.

"It's like a primer," Dusinberre said. "It has a tremendous rhythmic vitality, at times a great sense of humor, a peasant-type of wildness to it, great lyricism and a tremendously strong form. And it's best to hear it live because it has a strong visual element.

"Before I joined the quartet, I was scared off of playing anything of Bartok's because his compositions have the reputation of being difficult and modern in a daunting way. But since I've been with this ensemble, I've come to find that his pieces have the same spectrum of humanity and wide range of emotions that now make him sound approachable to me."

AS FORTHE Beethoven cycle, Dusinberre says the quartet continues, undaunted, to record its entirety. "When taken as a group of work, it's the most challenging, most radical and intricate compositions he ever did. Artistically, it's a wonderful thing to do because every quartet considers it the highest peak to perform and record these pieces.

"We decided to start with Beethoven's middle quartets because they're really big pieces and innovative in the way they took chances in the music. It was an inspiring place for us to start because it makes us take chances as well."

The second volume, made up of early quartets, is being recorded now and should be released later this year. The final volume of late quartets is scheduled for early 2005.

All this may add up to more Grammy opportunities for this august group.

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