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Emerson Quartet Plays Saariaho

The Emerson String QuartetThe Emerson String Quartet presented a concert of their trademark high quality at the National Museum of Natural History Saturday night (reviewed exclusively by Ionarts), as part of the Smithsonian Resident Associates series. Back to a more standard programming format than last season’s Shostakovich half-cycle, the quartet offered works of Haydn, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (b. 1952), and Beethoven. Saariaho’s Terra Memoria, dedicated to “those departed,” was premiered by the Emerson Quartet just last June at Carnegie Hall.

The one-movement work contains persuasive writing for string quartet. One heard the quartet performing mostly as one musical unit in this work, which is a testament to both the quartet’s vast experience as an ensemble and Saariaho’s precise compositional approach. Making one long phrase – perhaps a life-cycle – Terra Memoria held the interest of the audience by keeping a very delicate textural balance; its own musical eco-system, if you will. Often the four instruments would play in a kind of heterophony, when each player would begin on different notes and move in similar rhythmic and intervallic direction. One wonders if the National Museum of Natural History specifically requested the programming of this work, or if it was a striking coincidence. Place Nymphea (1987), Saariaho’s first work for string quartet, and her two operas -- L’Amour de loin (2000) and Adriana Mater (2006) -- on your listening lists.

Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major (op. 20, no. 2) came off blandly due to a lack of strong downbeat and the quartet’s regretful approach of emphasizing characterless long lines over interesting musical figures. Considering the intonation issues in the slower bits, perhaps only the more complex material was fully rehearsed. Beethoven’s first Rasumovsky string quartet (op. 59, no. 1) was full of character, optimism, and cunning. With seemingly perfect tempi, lots of punctuation, and even gradation of dynamics, the Beethoven was nothing but pleasing.

The next concert in the Emerson Quartet series at the National Museum of Natural History (December 9, 6 pm) features Beethoven's fourth quartet (op. 18, no. 4), a new quartet by Bright Sheng, and the third Brahms quartet. The latter features on their latest recording, of the Brahms quartets and the op. 34 piano quintet.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reviewing the Saariaho. I couldn't attend the Chicago performance.

Unknown said...

The Amsterdam Klavier Trio will perform at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the 28th of October and not at the Baltimore Museum.
They will also play at the French Embassy on the 29th of October an all French music program including the Ravel Trio and the Faure 1st piano quartet.