Collective Listening Project

Takács Quartet Selects

Playlist No. 31

About the Playlist

October 8, 2020
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These four extraordinary musicians have shared wonderfully distinct works, ranging from Bach to Bernstein and beyond, and their personal reflections on their choices is a fascinating glimpse into their individual characters. This playlist also marks the launch of a new feature of our Collective Listening Project that we are calling “Play It Forward.” From time to time we will ask musicians to “play it forward” by nominating someone from whom who they would like to hear a playlist. The Takács Quartet has nominated the wonderful singer, composer, and musician Clarice Assad, whose music is included on today’s list.

Selections from Edward Dusinberre, first violinist of the Takács Quartet

ANTONÍN DVORÁK The Wild DoveOp. 110
Czech Philharmonic, Jirí Bélohlavék, Conductor

During this challenging time I have been listening to some works I did not previously know well by composers whose quartets are very familiar to me!

In the case of Dvorák’s symphonic poem The Wild Dove I have found the experience to be like discovering a different side of a person you thought you knew well. This is one of Dvorak’s later works, written after his return to Prague after several years living in New York City, a musical setting of a ballade by the Czech writer K. J. Erben, whose work inspired Dvorák throughout his life. The music has little in common with the American Quartet! Ed also recommended this video of the piece on YouTube.

BENJAMIN BRITTEN Les Illuminations
Ian Bostridge, Tenor, Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle, Conductor

Britten began composing his song cycle Les Illuminations in Suffolk, England in 1939 and finished it in America in 1940. It is a breathtaking work, showing Britten’s extraordinary imagination at work and including both some of the most ethereal and tempestuous music. This is wonderful performance by Ian Bostridge, included on the Spotify playlist (Berlin Philharmonic) and on YouTube (London Symphony).

Selections from Harumi Rhodes, second violinist of the Takács Quartet

CARLOS SIMON An Elegy (A Cry from the Grave)
This week I have the music of Carlos Simon on my personal playlist, including two of his string quartets. Warmth From Other Suns (premiered in 2020 and inspired by Isabel Wilkerson’s book Warmth of Other Suns) gives musical voice to the stories of millions of African-Americans who fled the rural South between 1916–1970 during the Great Migration in search for a better life, a new sense of home. Written in 2015, Elegy for String Quartet: A Cry From the Grave is dedicated specifically to the voices of Trayvon Martin, Eric Gardner, and Michael Brown. It is no coincidence that Carlos Simon choses the intimacy of a string quartet to give tribute to these human voices and stories—as I listen, I feel a deep sorrow and also a searing sense of hope.

CLARICE ASSAD “De Perna Pro Ar” from Imaginarium
Also on my playlist is Clarice Assad’s album, Imaginarium (I love this title!). Clarice’s singing is beyond what I could ever imagine would be possible for the human voice. I am completely mesmerized by her boldness, her mind-bending virtuosity, her playfulness—when listening to her voice, I find myself thinking: “Am I under some magic spell?

Selection from Richard O’Neill, violist of the Takács Quartet

Glenn Gould, Piano

I am sure that COVID-19 has made the world love J. S. Bach even more than we thought possible. With the plethora of live-streamed videos as well as recordings, I have never heard so much solo Bach as I have in the past few months! But it is another work that I have always turned to in tough times, the Goldberg Variations which never fails to pick me up. On the title page, Bach specifically dedicates this piece to all of us who love music, to refresh our spirits in our times of need. Of the many versions and recordings, I was drawn to this early recording of Gould, whose Goldberg-lite (the version on YouTube has no repeats, done in a little over half an hour) never fails to bring me to catharsis, every time, always in different moments.

Selections from András Fejér, cellist of the Takács Quartet

FRANZ SCHUBERT Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, D.960
Alfred Brendel, Piano

Brendel’s mix of clarity of phrasing, architectural build-up, and emotional involvement is beyond breathtaking in this recording. The development section’s harmony and color changes in the first movement are pure bliss, as is his touch throughout. This YouTube video is the closest in interpretation to his disc. Enjoy!

Kiri Te Kanawa (Maria), José Carreras (Tony), Tatiana Troyanos (Anita), and Kurt Ollmann (Riff), conducted by Leonard Bernstein (1984)
And to energize and invigorate ourselves in these difficult times, another favorite: Bernstein conducts the recording of his own West Side Story for Deutsche Grammophon and we are placed right in the middle of these sessions with an all-star cast, but especially Kiri Te Kanawa whose personality and voice are out of this world…

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