Things to like about the Emerson String Quartet: they take their name from a poet, they play standing up – the cellist though sits on a raised podium – and they have been performing together for 36 years.
Emerson String Quartet
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
* * * * *
For some ensembles, such long-standing familiarity could lead to predictability and staleness but with the Emersons it only serves to deepen and enrich the musical experience.
The exquisite theme and variations of the extended adagio in Beethoven’s String Quartet in E flat Op127 could easily have been a self-contained masterclass in the subtle nuances of string quartet performance. Each musician seamlessly contributed to the ebb and flow of this intricately balanced work, listening and watching each other with a finely-tuned intensity.
Likewise in Mozart’s charming String Quartet in D K575, which is anchored by some superb writing for cello and viola, the latter instrument most likely played by Mozart himself in the first performances.
Equally at home with contemporary repertoire, the quartet gave a vivid account of Thomas Ades’ The Four Quarters, which explored the perception of time. Most captivating was the Twenty-Fifth Hour with its complex and exacting rhythms which had the paradoxical effect of transporting the listener out of the moment.