Emerson Quartet at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Mendelssohn, Adès, Beethoven: Emerson Quartet, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 7.4.2011 (CC)


Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 5 in E flat, Op. 44/3

Adès: The Four Quarters (UK premiere)

Beethoven: String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131


The centrepoint of this evening was the UK premiere of Thomas Adès’ The Four Quarters. The actual World Premiere took place in New York in March this year – it was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the Emersons. There is no doubting either the composer’s fine ear for sonority or his fine compositional technique. The piece is intriguing, certainly. The first movement, “Nightfalls”, begins with the violins playing without vibrato. Bartók is the immediately identifiable background here. Droplets of sound arrive on the surface of this angst-laden movement.

The use of pizzicato to depict the water droplets of “Morning Dew”, the second movement, is clear enough and the Emerson performance was superb. But there seems little of emotional depth to this movement, perhaps deliberately as the ostinato-based third segment, “Days”, is infused with a curiously identifiable American feel. The final movement, “The Twenty-fifth Hour” (in 25/16 time) comes full circle. The violins’ exchanges of ideas are given over a texturally fully accompaniment (spread pizzicati).This is indeed music of many layers. Repeated hearings will doubtless reveal more riches. Yet at the end this listener was left with a feeling of a lack of true depth, something that the piece’s proximity to Beethoven’s Op. 131 in the programme underlined. Interested readers may wish to read Eugene Drucker on this piece (http://www.carnegiehall.org/BlogPost.aspx?id=4294973912).

The Mendelssohn that began the evening had much to recommend it. Eugene Drucker led a performance of much character. The world of Midsummer Night’s Dream was identifiable in the Scherzo, but here it was presented with added shadows. The glorious ease of the polyphony of the Adagio was likewise beautifully presented, while the scampering finale had plenty of energy. The Beethoven Op. 131 was a performance of some stature yet one that in the final analysis failed to do the score full justice. The initial fugue set the tone. Flowing, well rehearsed, it nevertheless failed to open the doors to the greatness of late Beethoven. Throughout there were memorable solos and some suave playing. If only the music’s extremes had been fully honoured; even the finale’s energy was low (especially the coda).

Colin Clarke