The Takacs String Quartet played its first local concert with its new violist, Geraldine Walther, Sunday afternoon, while its former violist Roger Tapping, now based in Boston, applauded from the audience.
Before joining the Takacs at the end of last summer, Walther served as principal viola of the San Francisco Symphony for nearly 30 years. Her presence hasn't changed the famous Takacs characteristics: tonal refinement, superb intonation and balance, rhythmic vitality, and emotional immediacy. But Walther brings a welcome touch of vivacity, both musical and personal. Most quartet players act as if playing some of the greatest music ever was a penitential experience; Walther smiles and seems to be enjoying herself. And she is a wonderful instrumentalist and responsive chamber-music player who knows when to step forward and when to recede.
The program opened with two quartets containing episodes now more famous than the works they come from. The melody from the second movement of Haydn's C-Major Quartet (Op. 76, No. 3) served as the Austrian national anthem and became a hymn tune, ''Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken." More notoriously, it became ''Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles." The Nocturne from Borodin's Second Quartet became familiar in an adaptation as a Broadway show tune, ''And This Is My Beloved" from ''Kismet."
Both pieces were played with elegant interaction by the members of the quartet: violinist Edward Dusinberre, Walther, and the two remaining players who founded the quartet in Hungary in 1975, Karoly Schranz, violin, and Andras Fejer, cello.
After intermission, violist James Dunham -- former violist of the Cleveland Quartet -- joined the group for Mozart's G-Minor String Quintet (K. 516). This piece contains some of the most poignant music Mozart, or anyone, ever wrote. Through their technical command -- especially Dusinberre's ineffable purity of tone in the top register -- and their musical understanding, the members brought us straight into the heart of the matter.