William Dart
The New Zealand Herald
September 2015

The Takács Quartet was founded 40 years ago by four young Budapest students, two of whom are still with the group. New Zealanders have enjoyed them in the concert hall more than once; and on their last visit, in 2012, the quartet appeared on the Good Morning show.

Four years before that, they gave us a taste of Kiwi, premiering John Psathas' A Cool Wind and I remember leader Edward Dusinberre on stage, praising the composer for making so much of the inherent creative tension between four individual musicians.

In conversation on that visit, Dusinberre had mentioned his group was keen to record the two quartets of the Czech Leos Janáček (1854-1928); now, three years later, a new Takács CD features these in the excellent company of the composer's fellow-countryman, Bedrich Smetana.

Gavin Plumley's programme note stresses this link, setting off with the observation that "Nationalism is a public business".

Throughout these passionate, inspired performances, one is struck by the determination of two composers struggling to make their individual Czech voices heard in a world of pervasive and numbing internationalism.

Smetana's 1876 First String Quartet was intended as "a tone poem of my life".

It is as if a soul has been laid bare in this performance, from the work's dramatic bursting to life through to the elegiac third movement, in which András Fejér's cello solo sets the mood for Smetana's memories of his first love. Fejér, in 2012, summed up Janáček very perceptively for me as a quirky and capriciously passionate man. "You never know what's coming, but his music always sounds as if it could be no one but Janáček."

On disc, the Takács' thrilling account of the composer's Second Quartet (Intimate Letters) recalls their revelatory interpretation on stage three years ago, catching its engrossing weave of intense dialogues and volatile textures.

Janáček's earlier Quartet (The Kreutzer Sonata) comes with a grim yet glowing sense of humanity.

The often disturbing mood-swings of the tragic Tolstoy novella that gives the score its title, are conveyed with chilling psychological penetration.

Verdict: 'Superb collection of Czech masterpieces from premier ensemble'.

The New Zealand Herald