Friends of Chamber Music

The Emerson String Quartet

Bartók Quartet No. 2 (1917) Sibelius Quartet in D minor, Opus 56 (Voces intimae) Mozart Quartet in C major, K. 465 (Dissonance)

Violin Lawrence Dutton Violin Eugene Drucker Viola Philip Setzer Cello David Finckel

Date 10 January 2006, 20.00 Venue Queen Elizabeth Playhouse Reviewer JH Stape

The Emerson String Quartet's return to Vancouver is always a special event, and the capacity audience at this concert testified to three long-term relationships: that with The Friends of Chamber Music, that of Edwina and Paul Heller who generously sponsored the concert with The Friends, and that among the players.

Now in its thirtieth year the Emerson is playing at the top of its form, applying flawless musicianship and long-honed interpretive skills to a diverse repertoire. The Emerson delivered a hold-on-to-your seats performance, simply revelling in its mastery and pouring out a rich, creamy sound that brought revelation after revelation. Concerts simply don't get better than this.

Bartok's three movement Quartet No. 2 of 1917 is a vivid exploration of the Modernist soundscape, nervous and discordant, opening darkly and progressing into fragments. The second movement's energetic Magyar dance elements play an almost ironic role, with their madcap gypsy-like tempi contrasting with the agressively modern elements in the first and final movements. A dark intensity pervaded the final Lento, and drew out bravura playing. Elegant and polished throughout this adrenalin-driven quartet, the Emerson never let up for a moment.

Sibelius's only quartet, written in 1909, was a stark contrast with its expansive symphonic character and open harmonies. No less breathtaking in its ruthlessly rapid Vivace movement, the quartet plumbs greater emotional depths, particularly in its exquisitely sensitive and lushly romantic central Adagio. The Emerson conveyed the music's self-conscious beauty and hearts-on-sleeve character, while alert to the extreme demands of the closing Allegretto and Allegro, which move to dizzying tempi that demand tour-de-force playing.

Just when other groups might have flagged from sheer exhaustion, the Emerson rose to offer an idiomatic and spelllbinding reading of Mozart's 1785 Quartet in C major (Dissonance). From its surprisingly modern opening, which gives it its nickname, to the warm Gemuchlichkeit of its close, this celebratory music with all the rich layering of a Viennese torte, was effortless and charmingly conveyed. Mozartian facility confronted Mozartian depth. This interpretation of well-being rimming equanimity was flawless, earning a collective sigh of contentment from a rapt audience.

The encore, the minuet from Mendelssohn's Quartet in D major, Opus 44, No. 1, was an act of generosity that sent the audience into the warm night rain with a feeling that all was right with the world. If that isn't quite the case, all is certainly right with The Emerson and The Friends of Chamber Music that continues, season in and season out, to enrich the musical life of the city with music and playing of the very first rank.

© 2006 JH Stape