Mostly Mozart (9): Emerson Quartet Returns to Lincoln Center with New Member

25/08/2013

 Mostly Mozart (9): Beethoven: Emerson String Quartet, Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton, (viola), Paul Watkins (cello), Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, 19.8.2013 (SSM)

 

Emerson

Emerson String Quartet, Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton, (viola), Paul Watkins (cello)
Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

Beethoven: The “Razumovsky” Quartets

String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1
String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2
String Quartet in C major, Op. 59, No. 3

The recent movie A Late Quartet, which appeared around the same time as the departure of the Emerson Quartet’s longtime cellist, David Finckel, raised some interesting issues on the dynamics of a chamber music group. The movie’s cellist is the senior member and the emotional center of the group, a role that might not be atypical in other chamber ensembles. The first violinist of the Endellion Quartet, Andrew Watkinson, in referring to the film, says: “The same could be said of our cellist, David Waterman. Oddly, I think the cellist quite frequently takes this role – perhaps because they are so often playing the bass line that holds the music together.”

Both the fictional quartet and the Emerson faced similar alternatives: whether to disband or find a new cellist. Finckel has stated in interviews that the long-term plan had always been to agree to a date on which to end the quartet in toto. But, having found a new player, they now had to start thinking of themselves as a group that doesn’t end but rather evolves. Since the Emerson has not had a change of members in 34 years, this was a critical moment in the group’s history. Mr. Finckel, renowned as an advocate for chamber music, will continue performing with his wife, the pianist Wu Han, and plans on spending some time perfecting his role as soloist in works for cello and orchestra. He will also continue as director of Music@Menlo and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

The Emerson Quartet took a middle-of-the-road approach to the Razumovsky Quartets, delighting in their complexity. Normally one would expect that any musical set would start with the easiest and progress to the more complicated. Oddly the most modern-sounding and difficult quartet was the first and the “simplest” was the last, with the middle quartet in the minor key as the group’s dynamic center.

How does cellist Paul Watkins with his obvious technical prowess fit into the group? A litmus test of the technical ability of a string player could be the finale to the last movement of the third Razumovsky. Marked Allegro moto, this final movement of the set is often played considerably faster than the final movement of the second quartet (which Beethoven actually marks as Presto). All the members of the group played just about as fast as humanly possible. One can imagine one virtuoso accomplishing this feat, but it is hard to believe that there are four players in the world with these skills all together on the same stage. There were no signs at all that Watkins had recently replaced a 30-year resident of the cellist’s seat.

In general, the performance approached the music from a contemporary rather than a period perspective. Except for the aforementioned finale, these works were informed with a modern sensibility, and the classical themes of each movement were never overly emphasized. The group approached Beethoven’s “melodies” as kernels of potential material to develop, rather than as complete forms.

I doubt this view would have been the same if the group had never heard let alone performed the music of Bartók. String quartets were written throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, including those by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, but it wasn’t until Bartók in the second of his six quartets broke through the constraints of the diatonic scale into a new musical world that the quartet was free to go wherever the composer wanted.

Stan Metzger

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! City Music Foundation July 2019 Summer Residency at The Wallace Collection __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Usher Hall 2019-2020 Orchestral Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2020 Ring Cycles __________________________________
  • NEW! Roman River 2019 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Ex Cathedra’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Geneva Grand Théâtre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! CHORUS MASTER STEPHEN DOUGHTY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Ron Howard’s Pavarotti in Cinemas 13 July (Preview) and Nationwide (15 July) __________________________________
  • NEW! MULTI-FACETED MUSICIAN JOY LISNEY IN CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT BEATTIE __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month