Album Review: Takacs Quartet and Hamelin tackle Dohnányi Piano Quintets, String Quartet No. 2

By Laurence Vittes | From the March/April 2020 issue of Strings Magazine

Having recorded the piano quintets of Franck, Shostakovich, and Robert Schumann with the Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin, the Takács Quartet and Hamelin moved on to the two written by Ernő von Dohnányi, 20 years apart, in the bloom of his youthful energy, passion, and command both as a virtuoso pianist and composer before World War I intervened.

The music veers from gorgeous late Romanticism—no wonder Brahms had the Kneisel Quartet and Arthur Nikisch play the Op. 1 Quintet for him—to sounds and attitudes that have more of Dohnányi’s own personal hyper-Romantic stamp, like the exhilarating second subject of the first movement, or the decadent waltz theme of Op. 26, recalling his Variations on a Nursery Tune written the year before.


The music is occasionally filled with ominous harmonic complexities of things to come conflicted with an ecstatic yearning for the old beauties. All of this is captured by vibrant performances that hew to the idea of the composer as a Hungarian Brahms with more reflective schemes, perhaps the influence of Bruckner.

The sound, recorded in the concert hall and recording studio of the Nimbus Foundation in east Wales, captures the characteristic Takács sound—aristocratic, intellectual, full-bodied, and especially outstanding in its use of textures and narratives created by the clarity of their layering. Hamelin remains a poet with whom no string player has ever failed to fall in love.

There is at least one Takács recording that remains to be issued before Richard O’Neill takes over for Geraldine Walther in June. It’s an album of piano quintets by Elgar and Amy Beach with Garrick Ohlsson, recorded in May and slated for release in the summer.