Wednesday, April 10, 2002

String quartet gives grand finale

Concert review

By Nicole Hamilton
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A performance by the Emerson String Quartet Tuesday night marked the end of the Cincinnati Chamber Music Society's 2001-2002 season. And it was, in every way, a grande finale.

        Now in their 25th anniversary year, the quartet brought their renown playing to the Corbett Auditorium in the University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music, performing works by Haydn, Shostakovich, and Beethoven with stunning virtuosity.

        The quartet, violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist David Finckel - are internationally acclaimed for insightful interpretations and technical mastery of both classical and contemporary works. They have collaborated with numerous musicians including cellists Lynn Harrell and Mstislav Rostropovich. They've also won four Grammy awards, including the “best classical album” Grammy, in 2001, for Shostakovich String Quartets.

        Franz Joseph Haydn's Quartet in F Minor, Op. 20, No.5, with its unsettling rhythm and key changes, marked a departure from his earlier quartet pieces. The melody in the first movement, “Allegro Moderato”, is never quite resolved.

        Violinist Philip Setzer played first violin for this quartet (Mr. Drucker played first for the others) work, leading the quartet through the edgy, fast-paced, and technically demanding “Menuetto”. And the quartet's phrasing, and their sense of timing, especially in the majestic canon in the “Finale: Fuga a due Soggeti” -was exquisite.

        Dmitri Shostakovich's fifteen quartets are profoundly introspective. Quartet No. 14 F-sharp major, Op. 142, is no exception. Written for Sergei Shirinsky, cellist in the Beethoven Quartet, the work features a predominant cello part (he dedicated a quartet to each Beethoven Quartet member). There were great dualities in cellist David Finckel's playing. His interpretation was both subtle and powerful, especially in the “Adagio”. At times, he painted a barren, lonely landscape, but his sound was expansive; his tone full.

        When Ludwig van Beethoven first introduced his Quartet in C Major, op. 59 No. 3, musicians complained they were too difficult to play. What begins as a sweet serenade in the first movement, suddenly becomes a work that is at times a Slavic and then again a little like Mozart's work. It's hard to tell where the focus - the core - of the composition lies.

        But the Emerson Quartet keep it under control, again, with exciting phrasing and effortless cohesion.

        The last movement, “Allegro molto”, ends triumphantly. A four-measure end statement after a riveting fugue. By the time the quartet lifted the bows off their strings, the audience was on their feet.

        They returned to stage to play another work by Haydn and again ended to a standing ovation.


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