Review: Emerson String Quartet at Comstock Hall

Emerson String Quartet credit Lisa Mazzucco

(Photo credit: Lisa Mazzucco)

The celebrated Emerson String Quartet returned to Louisville on Sunday for their second performance in as many years, this time as part of the Chamber Music Society of Louisville’s concert series at Comstock Hall (their last performance was with the Louisville Orchestra).

The first two movements of Mozart’s Quartet in G major, K. 387, provided a lukewarm first impression, with intonation issues between the violins playing unison or an octave apart. The off-beat accents in the Menuetto were a bit forced and too punctuated. Mozart’s operatic third movement gave Philip Setzer a chance to shape sublime phrases with elegance. A vigorous final movement gave the composer the last laugh with a fake ending causing fairly hefty applause too early, requiring Mr. Setzer to tell the audience that the music was not over, after which the final few bars were played. You could almost hear Tom Hulce’s Amadeus cackling.

Central to the program in structure and length was the challenging and engrossing Lyric Suite by Alban Berg. As one of the second-Viennese composers mentored by Arnold Schoenberg, Berg’s use of the often clinical twelve-tone system is generally more melodic and approachable. Here in this dense and mystical score, Emerson was most comfortable with each player afforded textures rich and sparse, sparkling and gritty.

Beethoven’s Quartet in E-flat, Op. 74, from 1809 sits squarely among some of his most lauded works, including the third and fifth symphonies, the violin concerto, Fidelio and the “Waldstein” piano sonata. But unlike these emotionally weighty companions, the “Harp” quartet is, generally, lighter. Emerson’s delivery was passionate, if a little heavy. Violinist Eugene Drucker’s dexterity through a flurry of notes during the coda of the first movement was brilliant. Violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins found moments to make their sound bloom in the final set of variations.

For an encore, Emerson played a Fantasia by Henry Purcell originally for a viol consort. Their playing wasn’t imitative of viols, but just sensitive enough for clarity. In some ways the Purcell sounded more like the Beethoven than the Beethoven.

If the concert seemed plodding, it wasn’t from the musicians performance, but the long pauses between every movement. Most seemed necessary for tuning – the hall was warm and stuffy, which could have been the culprit – but there was little connective tissue between movements. Unfortunately, these breaks added up making for a first half that had little momentum and energy.

The final concert of the Chamber Music Society of Louisville is Thursday at 7:30pm featuring Brooklyn Rider at the Clifton Center.

2015 Spring Membership Drive Premium

rachel barton pine

Internationally acclaimed violinist Rachel Barton Pine has put together a double-disc set album including all of Mozart’s violin concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364, and we’re offering it to you with your sustaining membership of $15 or more (or a lump sum gift of $180).

For this album Ms. Barton Pine worked with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and conductor Sir Neville Marriner. She has been listening to Sir Marriner and the Academy play Mozart ever since she was a child. She grew up listening to them on LP records given to her by her mother. Collaborating with these musicians was a dream she fulfilled. You can hear the level of dedication and passion from her and the Academy when you listen to this record. She has a very fine understanding of Mozart and expresses his music dramatically. She and her collaborators were detailed and precise during the recording process and didn’t stop until they achieved the perfect sound.

You can receive a copy of her new album when you contribute $15 or more during our Spring Membership Drive, March 23-28, 2015. Call (502) 814-6565 or give online.

Check out a video of Ms. Pine performing the 2nd movement of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 below.

Jinjoo Cho In-Studio

Jinjoo Cho.medium 2

Violinist Jinjoo Cho joined us in the Performance Studio of Classical 90.5 to perform a concert on February 3rd. Ms. Cho received the gold medal at the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in September. The Gheens Great Expectations Program welcomed her and the administrator of the Gheens series pianist Jeff Jamner accompanied her. She gave an outstanding concert of “Grave and Fuga from Sonata No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003″ by J.S. Bach, “Sonata in E Minor, K. 304″ by W.A. Mozart, and “Fantasy for Solo Violin” by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. Daniel Gilliam hosted the concert, and spoke with Ms. Cho and Glen Kwok, Executive Director of ICVI.

Featured Album & Giveaway: Rachel Barton Pine’s Mozart

rachel barton pine

For her latest album, Rachel Barton Pine worked with legendary conductor Sir Neville Marriner (a “hero” to her) and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields recording all of Mozart’s violin concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364. While putting together this double-disc set of concertos was a huge undertaking, even more surprising is that Ms. Barton Pine gave a concert of all five concertos in 2011, just three weeks after giving birth to her first child! We’re featuring her album all week and giving you a chance to win a copy!

Featured Album: Mozart Dedicated to Haydn

casals quartet

Mozart acknowledged how difficult writing for string quartet could be when he dedicated a set to the father of the nascent genre, Joseph Haydn, saying “They are…the fruit of a long and laborious study.” Haydn had created the “string quartet” about 30 years before Mozart’s work in the genre, and others (including Ignaz Pleyel in 1784) had paid similar homage to Papa Haydn.

Our Featured Album this week is Cuarteto Casals playing three of the six quartets dedicated to Haydn, by Mozart. casals quartet cover Sample some of Cuarteto Casals’ earlier recordings of Mozart here: