Emerson String Quartet – Brahms Plus (3)

String Quartet in B flat, K458 (Hunt)
String Quartet No.3 in B flat, Op.67
String Sextet No.2 in G, Op.36

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

Paul Neubauer (viola) & Colin Carr (cello)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 3 March, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The Emerson String QuartetThe third and final recital covering Brahms’s three string quartets mixed with other informative works was a mixed evening. Only in the Sextet did one feel that the players’ musicality was being communicated effectively.

Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet was quite disappointing. It was a polished performance, to be sure, but one that never threatened to do anything. The first movement is marked Allegro vivace assai, but might well have been Allegro ma non troppo, although simple humour contributed to its playfulness. The profound Adagio caught the mood not least in the viola accompaniment to the first violin, the latter soaring beautifully. The finale was graceful but lacked the speed and agility it needs, rhythms lacking the comic energy of Haydn – this is, after all, one of six string quartets that Mozart devoted to the older composer.

All was swept aside for Brahms’s sunny Third String Quartet. The different melodic lines of the opening movement were superbly delineated. A probing and seductive account of the Andante second movement found its natural corollary with the impatience that pervaded the succeeding Agitato. Lawrence Dutton anchored this movement notably; the control of the close evoked a real sense of pathos. A rather stilted account of the last movement (a Theme and Variations) highlighted Brahms’s melodic invention brought out by individualistic playing.

The triumph of the evening was Brahms’s Second String Sextet. Never forced, the piece was allowed to build naturally, each instrument given its place. Lyricism pervaded the opening movement, once the wrapping had been removed. This was contented music-making. The Andante captured flurries of activity without exaggerating but the next movement needed a gentler flow to fully reveal all the musical ideas as there are a lot of musical ideas. Ensemble was superb for the Schubertian finale and ultimately stimulating.

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