Note: I'm not familiar iwth the Artek reissue of this Cd. This review applies to the Decca original, which has a confusing listing at amazon.
This energetic program of Smetana and Borodin was taped at the end of 1995, at a time when string quartets were not yet banished form major labels and when the Takacs still had two Hungarian members, second violin Karoly Scranz and cellist Andras Fejer. Even with two English members, the Tkacs were unusually bold players, to the point of offering sharp attacks, intense pacing, and blunt phrasing. They eschewed the elegance of the Tokyo quartet and the always beautiful unanimity of the Alban Berg. (Did growing up in the shadow of Soviet domination make them avoid Shostakovich? One would think their approach ideal for his restless, moody quartets.)
To lovers of the string quartet literature, the Smetana "From My Life" Quartet and the Borodin No. 2, famous for its lovely Nottorno (third movement, in place of an Adagio), are if anything overly familiar. I should hesitate before applying that label - literacy in this genre seems to be fast declining, and these delightful works may be new to many listeners. In both works the Takacs plays in a style I very much favor, leaving aside Victorian sweetness for more bite and thrust. Yet each instrumentalist possesses a lovely, distinctive tone, so there is no risk of homogeneity. The hard way to build a great quartet is through the meeting of strong personalities, yet in the end it's the most gratifying way.
My only reservation is that the audio perspective is fairly distant, as if in the concert hall. Inner detail isn't as clear as it could be, and at times the sound is blurry. but this is preferable to the edgy, shrill xray sound that Decca gave the Beethoven cycle made by the Takacs. I don't know the present state of this group, having last heard them when they had just replaced the violist. But here they are in excellent form, and I'm happy to name this CD my first choice in both works, equal to my beloved ABQ. (The stingy total timing of 51 min. is fairly typical of string quartet recordings.)