String Quartet in E flat, Op.51
Cypresses – Nos.1-4
String Quartet No.1 (The Kreutzer Sonata)
Piano Quintet in A, Op.81
Emerson Quartet [Eugene Drucker & Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton (viola) & David Finckel (cello)]
Menahem Pressler (piano)
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 2 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Part one of the programme was not as impressive. Right from the start of Dvorak’s E flat String Quartet there was a certain earnestness to the playing that did not seem fully attuned to the deeply-felt nature of the piece; nor was there quite enough zest in the second movement (another Dumka). While the playing in both the ‘Romanze’ – arguably the emotional core of the work – and the vigorous finale was technically immaculate, the players did not entirely realise the music’s potential.
In the first four of Dvořák’s Cypresses a greater degree of warmth was on display. But it was in the more dramatic Second (‘Death Reigns In Many a Human Breast’) that the players truly hit the mark.
Neither was the turbulent character of Janáček’s First Quartet (The Kreutzer Sonata) ideally conveyed. This piece, based on Tolstoy’s novel, needs a high level of intensity during its 17 minutes or so duration, in order to communicate the dramatic story of an unhappy marriage, adultery, and murder. In this reading the emotional temperature seemed a little too restrained, calculated even, and while the tremolo passages in the second movement were done chillingly enough, overall there was a dearth of unbridled passion.
While Dvořák’s Piano Quintet was the big success of the recital, the substantial encore – the slow movement of Brahms’s Piano Quintet – was scarcely less pleasurable. The limpid playing of Menahem Pressler, together with rich-toned and now beautifully balanced playing from the Emerson musicians, brought further balm to the soul.