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Author: Jill Kimball

Takács Quartet brings dramatic wartime music to Grusin Hall

The turbulent and nostalgic music of Janáček and Elgar anchors this January program.

In 1914, a massive war began and threatened to upend Europe. As the Czech composer Leoš Janáček tried to forget current events and focus on writing a sonata, he said, “I could just about hear the sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head.”

His sonata, written for violin and piano, sounds so dramatic and uneasy that a listener’s mind can’t separate it from the traumatic events of World War I.

“It’s full of this very stormy, conflicted music, but (there are) also passages of incredible beauty,” says Ed Dusinberre, a violinist in the Takács Quartet. “Those ethereal moments sound like someone waiting for a more simple, innocent world.”

Janáček’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is at the center of two cathartic Takács Quartet concerts taking place at the University of Colorado Boulder on Jan. 10 and 11 with guest pianist Margaret McDonald. The Grammy-winning group serves as quartet-in-residence at CU-Boulder and gives several performances on campus each season.

Also on the January program is Elgar’s nostalgic, melancholic Quintet in A minor for Piano and String Quartet, written in 1918. Though Elgar, too, wrote the music in the midst of war, he and Janáček spoke very different languages.

“Janáček was a modernist, while Elgar was very old fashioned,” explains Dusinberre. “Elgar wrote in a late Romantic 19th-century style, which by then was somewhat out of date. But even though the two pieces sound so different, you can tell they’re connected by this time period.”

Like Janáček, Elgar was not directly involved in World War I; when he wrote his piano quintet, he was in his sixties and had just moved to the countryside to improve his health. Whether he was inspired by the war or old age, this work packs a powerful nostalgic punch.

The emotional program opens on a lighter note with Beethoven’s cheerful, lyrical String Quartet No. 3 in D Major. Beethoven will play a major role in 2016 for the Takács Quartet: In conjunction with the fall release of Dusinberre’s book, “Beethoven For a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet,” the group will perform his full string quartet cycle at London’s Wigmore Hall, Princeton University, the University of Michigan and the University of California at Berkeley.

Despite its title, the String Quartet No. 3 was actually Beethoven’s first. It was written just as Joseph Haydn, widely considered the pioneer of string quartets, finished his very last chamber work.

“I love that those two pieces coincided,” Dusinberre says. “It’s like a runner handing over the torch to his teammate in a relay race.”

The Takács Quartet performs this program on Sunday, Jan. 10 at 4 p.m. and Monday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are limited. To order, go online or call the CU Presents Box Office at 303-492-8008.

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