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SMF: Takacs Quartet @ Telfair
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I always make a point to go see Hungarian musicians when I can. Hungary is the epicenter of European Gypsy culture, and Hungarian musicians -- even if they may not always admit it -- often reflect their unique cultural inheritance with a suitable Gypsy-like panache and intensity that isn't always found in the rest of the music world.

This flair especially extends to Hungarian classical performers, so I was extra-pumped to go see the Savannah debut this evening of Hungary's Takacs Quartet, one of the world's preeminent chamber ensembles, which Savannah Music Festival Director Rob Gibson said he's been trying to bring here for the past ten years.

Of course, they didn't disappoint. The Telfair Academy, as usual, is an inspiring setting for Savannah Music Festival chamber music -- not just acoustically but in the way it surrounds you with world-class paintings as you enjoy the music.

I do hope Savannah audiences appreciate this rare and special opportunity.

The Takacs Quartet opened with a handy ten-minute Schubert selection, a movement from an unfinished C Minor quartet. (Schubert died at age 31.) This was just a tease, albeit an energetic and especially lively one. For those versed in the piece's mysterious history, it was an intriguing glimpse of a masterpiece that could have been.

The Quartet proceeded to what was without question the most adventurous and unconventional piece of the evening, the String Quartet No. 4 by none other than their fellow Hungarian, Bela Bartok.

(Another Bela, Bela Fleck, was in attendance at the Telfair with bandmate Victor Wooten, before going over to the Trustees for their own gig later tonight.)

And so the audience was treated to the always-invigorating experience of hearing native Hungarians interpret the work of a fellow Hungarian. However, it also might have come as a shock, though not necessarily an unwelcome one.

The five-movement piece made liberal use of dissonance and unorthodox techniques to paint a swirling picture of barely controlled chaos, albeit with a very strong rhythmic underpinning, anchored by Andras Fejer's robust and fearless cello playing.

For example, the entire fourth movement, the scherzo, was played pizzicato -- pizzicato so aggressive, in fact, that I was surprised there was a fifth movement at all, given how out-of-tune everyone's strings must have been after all that picking.

(Indeed, Flecktone bassist Wooten must have been impressed with the Quartet's style, which bordered on the kind of slap bass technique he does himself.)

After a brief intermission the Takacs Quartet closed with Beethoven's Quartet No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, the composer's personal favorite of his late quartets (he would pass away a year after completion of this particular work).

This lushly layered piece -- in seven, count 'em, seven movements! -- was probably much more in line with what this audience came to see. Dramatic, rich, intense, it brought out the best in the Quartet. Which is saying quite a bit.