SHARPS AND FLATIRONS: Takacs Quartet Welcomes Pianist Cooperstock And Tenor Chellis Feb. 4-5
One of the attractions that brought pianist Andrew Cooperstock to the University of Colorado faculty 18 years ago was, he says, “the idea of chamber music and collaboration among the faculty.”
Nothing embodies the collaborative environment in the College of Music better than the Takacs Quartet, with whom Cooperstock will be performing in Grusin Hall Sunday and Monday (4 p.m. Feb. 4 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5). “I love that they want to collaborate with faculty,” he says. “It’s been wonderful over the years.”
Members of the quartet feel the same way. “We have such a close connection with the faculty,” second violinist Károly Schranz says. “It’s always a great feeling to play with them.”
For the upcoming concert, Cooperstock and the Takacs will repeat a piece they first played together in 2002, the Second Quintet for piano and strings by the Hungarian composer Ernö Dohnányi. Another faculty guest will also appear on the program when tenor Matthew Chellis joins Cooperstock and Takacs violist Geraldine Walther to perform Four Hymns for tenor, viola and piano by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
The Takacs will open the concert with Mozart’s String Quartet in G major, K387. The first of the quartets Mozart dedicated to Joseph Haydn, it is sometimes known as the “Spring” Quartet in spite of having been finished on Dec. 31, 1782.
More than just an homage to the older composer, K387 and the other quartets dedicated to Haydn show Mozart’s full understanding of the new quartet style Haydn had developed. Compared to Mozart’s earlier divertimento-like quartets, the movements are more expansive and serious, the voices are more independent, and there is much more use of counterpoint. Indeed, Mozart’s “Haydn Quartets” are considered among the greatest works of the Classical period.
While Mozart’s quartets are familiar to chamber music audiences, the same cannot be said of anything by Dohnányi. Active in the early 20th century, he wrote in an attractive late-Romantic style. “The Quintet is just a gorgeous piece,” Cooperstock says. “It’s very tightly composed, with themes that come back in the last movement to tie everything together. Everybody gets solos, and the interaction of the piano and strings is great!”
He is delighted to have the chance to play the quintet again so many years after his first performance with the Takacs. “It’s one of my favorite quintets,” he says. “In 16 years, you have a chance to forget and remember, so we’re learning it all over again.”
The original members of the Takas Quartet, who came from Hungary in the 1980s, have their own link to the composer. Denes Koromzay, the CU faculty member who brought the Takacs to Boulder as CU quartet-in-residence and served as a mentor, had studied with Dohnányi in Budapest.
“We heard many stories about Dohnányi from Koromzay,” Schranz says. “He was student at the Franz Liszt Academy when Dohnányi was teaching there. He told us Dohnányi was not only a great composer, but also an amazing artist and piano player.”
Vaughan Williams’s Four Hymns is one of very few pieces written for the combination of tenor, viola and piano. “I’ve played a fair amount with viola, and I’ve played a fair amount with singers, but to get to play with both at the same time is very special,” Cooperstock says. “It’s a privilege to play with Matthew Chellis. He’s a terrific tenor.”
The hymns are based on religious poetry by four different English writers, from the 17th to the 19th centuries. “The pieces are very powerful,” Cooperstock says. “They’re very tuneful, but with a lot of contrast of character and sound and tempo. And there’s a certain soulfulness that the viola adds into the mixture.”
As much as he likes the music on the program, Cooperstock is particularly outspoken about the experience of performing with the Takacs Quartet. “It’s amazing to play with a group that’s been together for so long, because the ensemble is so tight, and their sense of timing and sound is so unified,” he says. “There’s a depth that they have that other quartets don’t have. To get to come into that picture is amazing.
“I’m very honored to participate with them, and I’m glad that they asked me to play with them again.”