Review | Emerson String Quartet launches its long goodbye at Wolf Trap



The Emerson String Quartet emphasised the sweet-sorrow side of parting Friday night on the Barns at Wolf Lure, performing two of Beethoven’s most expressive quartets to launch its farewell tour, almost 47 years after the famed ensemble’s formation at Juilliard.

Wolf Lure made a becoming setting for this send-off. Its the place the Emerson served as inventive advisers for Chamber Music on the Barns within the 2016-17 season; and the place in 2018 it offered its collaborative theatrical work, “Shostakovich and the Black Monk: A Russian Fantasy.”

Furthermore, the area honors the intimate dialogues which have lengthy been a calling card of this quartet. The Barns is likely one of the most acoustically nice venues I’ve skilled — the whole lot sounds crisp, shut and managed. This sadly prolonged to the cartoonish text-notification whoop! that disrupted the finale of Beethoven’s “String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor” (for disgrace, dude in row G!) and the refrain of suppressed coughs launched like a flock of wheezy doves between actions (nice job, everybody else!).

Washington was additionally a pure option to kick off this lengthy goodbye: The Emerson has loved a sustained love affair with listeners within the space, not least within the pages of The Washington Publish.

In 1984, Louis J. Wasser famous “there may be not a weak participant within the quartet, so no inventive power was misplaced in compensation.” Joan Reinthaler adopted up the next year: “Theirs is a degree of cooperation and adjustment, teamwork and selflessness that could be a byproduct of devotion to the music.” Charles McCardle sang in 1988 that Emersonian renditions of Bartók “certainly certified as definitive.” And Mark Carrington left a live performance in 1996 with “the profound impression that this is likely one of the preeminent chamber ensembles of our time.”

The quartet parted methods with cellist David Finckel in 2013 and welcomed his alternative, Paul Watkins. My next-desk neighbor Philip Kennicott observed on the time that the Emerson “are to the string quartet literature what the white-box gallery is to artwork: goal, unsentimental, untroubled by neuroses or unusual tics of interpretation, and at all times transparently in service to the music.”

This excessive reward nonetheless holds ten years down the street. The quartet purrs like a well-maintained engine. Watkins, violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer and violist Lawrence Dutton have between them one thing greater than rapport, and collectively they reveal an engagement with the music that reaches past respect.

Theirs is a devotional ease — a back-of-hand familiarity that teeters on the unconscious, particularly evident when within the throes of Beethoven. And whereas I can’t considerably veer from the arc of reward the Emerson has earned through the years, I detected on the Wolf Lure live performance what my predecessor Anne Midgette picked up on in 2015: frequent points with intonation, and a “gluey” high quality right here and there when the goings bought robust.

However these imperfections amounted to a pesky humanity Friday, solely sometimes intruding on the proper.

This system paired Beethoven’s “String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor” (Op. 59, No. 2) — certainly one of three quartets composed between 1806 and 1808 for Rely Andreas Razumovsky — along with his late-period “String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Main” (Op. 130) of 1826, a six-movement work that sometimes, as on Friday, employs the oft-standalone “Grosse Fuge” (Op. 133) as its finale.

The 2 quartets make canny bookends for an ensemble nearing the tip of its profession. No. 8 showcases Beethoven on the peak of his powers, residual warmth nonetheless rising from the Eroica (1803), concepts overflowing into stretches of symphonic complexity. In No. 13, you hear an artist who can not — a Beethoven struggling towards the darkness of deafness close to the tip of his life, compressing and conjoining concepts with a burning urgency, a dying mild and a raging.

And within the Emerson’s dealing with of every, you may hear a negotiation between precision and keenness. They introduced dynamic agility to the opening allegro of No. 8 — Watkins’s cello sneaking up and pouncing into fizzy bursts of violin. The mournful molto adagio appeared to stretch time because the ensemble coalesced into wealthy, golden chords, with Setzer tracing swish traces round them.

It’s within the allegretto third motion that No. 8’s Russian colours start to indicate. The motion was most arresting for the ensemble’s power, which lent ample drama to the various musical gasps Beethoven inserts to regain the scherzo’s composure. And the finale was extra-presto, leaping to busy life between the gamers, who handed round hot-potato fragments of melody earlier than making a locomotive cost to the end.

Within the “String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Main” (Op. 130), all of this ingenuity feels italicized — charged with import and abandon. Right here and there, the efficiency was marred by off notes and slight bottlenecks because the Emerson gamers struggled to satisfy Beethoven’s stringent calls for.

However Drucker and Watkins sustained marvelous pressure within the opening adagio motion, highlighting harmonic shifts towards the tip that sign the waking Romanticism in Beethoven’s later years. They introduced surprising sensitivity to the punchy presto of the second motion. The third and fourth had been a showcase of bustling inside mechanics — particularly the andante con moto third, by which the violins appear desirous to establish as woodwinds. Drucker introduced beautiful lyricism to the quartet’s most recognizable fifth motion Cavatina. The music felt drawn from a shared breath.

The “Grosse Fuge” predictably provided the true check of Emersonian mettle. It’s a sharp-clawed, hard-edge, uncompromising 16 minutes, its fugal kind an inadequate cage for Beethoven’s beast. Considered one of its hairpin turns had Drucker and Setzer briefly stepping on one another’s toes, and a few of its extra aggressively deconstructive stretches turned my knuckles whiter than normal.

It’s a terrifying piece of music — not least of all as a result of its magnificence feels threatened by its personal storm. (Does one carry out the “Fuge” or survive it?)

However maybe as a result of they realize it so effectively, or as a result of we all know them so effectively, the Emerson did to the “Fuge” what they’ve lengthy accomplished to the literature of the string quartet — turning previous favorites into recent beginning factors, and figuring out the distinction between the tip and the now.

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