About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



“Aimez-vous Brahms?” “You betcha!”

New York
Rose Theatre, Lincoln Centre
04/06/2008 -  
Johannes Brahms: String Quartet No 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67 – Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115 – Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18
Emerson String Quartet: Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer (violins), Lawrence Dutton (viola), David Finckel, (cello) – David Shifrin (clarinet), Paul Neubauer (viola), Colin Carr (cello)

The Emerson String Quartet is so perfect, meticulous and knowledgeable that no listener should think of anything but the music. Yet, after the first two movements of their opening work in this all-Brahms program, I visualized a memory from far away and long ago. The town of Herat, Afghanistan, had played host to equally artistic refugees from the Uzbek town of Bukhara. Their art was (and is) making the most densely woven carpets in existence. So tightly woven that it was virtually impossible to find the knots of the threads. They were there, of course, but so impenetrable were they that the carpets seemed like an easel upon which one had painted with a dazzling palette.

The Emerson has that kind of cohesion. Yes, they have a singular modus operandi, with three of them standing, with an alternating “first” violin for each work. But the main effect was their tight-fitting 16 strings that they seem like a single instrument, albeit with a range greater than any other instrument.

Thus, the B-flat Quartet, while moving briskly along, had a too-perfect balance, one that could be (and was) esteemed by the full house at the beautiful Rose Theatre, but which was not quite touching. Oh yes, the opening fanfares were attention-getting, that Hungarian theme of the third movement was charming, and the final movement variations, led by violist David Finckel were clear and bright. But one remembered Somerset Maugham’s line that “The imperfection of perfection is that it is boring.”

This wasn’t dull by any means. But when the great David Shifkin added his solo clarinet to the Clarinet Quintet, things became livelier. The Quintet is hardly a bright work, like the chamber clarinet of Bartók and Mozart. It is a melancholy work, with the clarinet mainly in the low registers. But it gave an undeniable color to the wistful work. The Magyar theme in the Adagio was as delicate and beautiful as anything during the afternoon.

But after the intermission, the Emerson Quartet became livelier and more colorful than anything previously. The Sextet added two splendid soloists (see above), and the fabric became immensely richer. This was the sunniest piece of the concert, starting unexpectedly down in the bass and working up to some of the main theme, and a body which was intricate, easy, and with the plucked last measures, purely delightful...

The second movement variations took Brahms back from the Romantic and Classical into the Baroque. The Hungarian theme (again) let to variations which could have been written by Handel himself. Each instrument had a turn to show off. But Brahms rarely took the virtuosic way out. Each variation was original in itself (was one of them a music-box?) and the combinations of strings were wonderful.

The very brief Scherzo was followed by a movement of drama, pathos and a final resolution. Not profound, but a pleasing Brahms played as pleasingly as possible.

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com