Intimate Voices – Emerson Quartet

0 of 5 stars

String Quartet in G minor, Op.27
At the Bier of a Young Artist, Op.58
String Quartet in D minor, Op.56 (Voces Intimae)

Emerson Quartet
[Eugene Drucker & Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton (viola) & David Finckel (cello)]

Recorded in November and December 2004 in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: April 2006
CD No: DG 477 5960
Duration: 64 minutes

A welcome diversion for the Emerson Quartet into Scandinavian works, which sit just off-centre in the string quartet repertoire. All three receive strong advocacy, even if the Emerson’s tendency, as is typical, is often to go for accuracy over emotional involvement.

No such problem with the Grieg, however, which bursts out of the blocks at quite a rate, the start of a powerful first movement that is thrown into vivid contrast as a precursor for Debussy’s String Quartet in the same key. Technically the Emerson is near-flawless, the musicians’ ensemble reaping the benefits of 25 years of familiarity. The first movement stutters a little, with a couple of false endings that are given too much emphasis, while the theme of the second movement, though thrown off with plenty of vigour, is a little too aggressive for a what is after all entitled ‘Romanze’.

Nonetheless, this is a performance that convinces on an emotional level, though the Emerson’s occasional tendency to over-project vibrato and expressive portamento spills into the other two works for brief periods. In the Sibelius this hinders the opening pages but the players soon settle to give a searching performance; the scherzo in particular full of purpose and drive. The chilly textures achieved here are reflected in the finale that recalls the string figuration of the third symphony in a particularly icy passage.

Nielsen’s At the Bier of a Young Artist makes an effortless transcription for string quartet, the only reorganisation required being a minimal change to the bass part. Initially, the Emerson are heart-on-sleeve, the opening thick-set chords a bit too sugary, but provide a more balanced emotional take from then on, catching the ebb and flow of Nielsen’s writing perfectly. DG’s roomy recording helps not to cloy the otherwise full-bodied textures.

A convincing case for each work, then, and an enjoyable programme which will give frequent pleasure.

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