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In music old and new, Takács Quartet sparkles at Jordan Hall

The Takács Quartet played Haydn, Timo Andres, and Dvorak at Jordan Hall.Robert Torres

The Takács Quartet, 40 years into a career that has reached the heights of critical approval and popular esteem, is known for many things: its expressive unanimity, its rhythmic acuity, its robust yet nuanced sound. In works by Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, and more, the group — little changed over the decades, and now comprising violinists Edward Dusinberre and Károly Schranz, violist Geraldine Walther, and cellist András Fejér — has few peers.

One thing for which the Takács is not known, though, is performing new music. When such a group champions a living composer, you pay attention. Happily, "Strong Language" by Timo Andres, a 30-year-old pianist and composer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., merited the attention: a point made clear when the Takács played it between canonical Haydn and Dvorak works in a Celebrity Series offering at Jordan Hall on Friday night.


The concert's first half couldn't have been more smartly conceived. Hearing "Strong Language" in the wake of a buoyant, congenial account of Haydn's Quartet in C (Op. 74, No. 1), you sensed kindred sensibilities connecting across centuries. Speaking to the audience from the stage — and presumbly meaning to dispel fear of the unknown — Dusinberre explained the spirit and workings of "Strong Language" beforehand.

The gesture was wise and welcome — and ultimately unnecessary, so clearly and cleverly made was the 25-minute piece, co-commissioned for the Takács by Carnegie Hall and Baltimore's Shriver Hall. Andres, in a program note, declares his aim to create a sustained piece using a minimum of materials: "three movements and exactly three ideas," he quips.

In "Middens," a wistful melody — "reassuringly tonal," Dusinberre remarked — wends from player to player, gradually taking on a patina of noisy debris. "Origin Story" starts as cool adagio, and then slowly grows then grows more emphatic with pealing tones and unison assertions. "Gentle Cycling" reverses the thrust of "Middens": From a light fog of skitters and strums emerges a sultry song for cello, then viola. The players afforded Andres the same commitment, precision, and sparkle that animated their Haydn; their success evident in warm audience approval.


The concluding account of Dvorak's Quartet No. 14 in A-flat (Op. 105) also benefited from singing lines and rich blend. And yet, ingracious as it feels to say, for this listener the music felt inconsequential: lush and sweet, but neither piquant nor pungent. After all the ingenuity and charm that had come before, mere loveliness somehow fell short.

Music Review

Takács Quartet

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston.

At Jordan Hall, Friday.

Steve Smith can be reached at steven.smith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.