Concert review: Emerson Quartet breathes some life into Dvorak

Published: Friday, April 30 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Emerson String Quartet

Lisa Mazzucco

EMERSON STRING QUARTET, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, April 28

The Emerson Quartet is focusing on the music of Dvorak at the moment. The group has just released a CD of his works, and it's currently taking some of these works on tour.

The foursome brought an all-Dvorak program to Libby Gardner Concert Hall Wednesday to close out the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City's current season. And their program certainly proved that a little Dvorak goes a long way — and too much can be tedious.

Dvorak wrote many wonderful works for various chamber ensembles and orchestra, but he is by no means one of the giants of the 19th century — and that fact is driven home when one hears an evening of his works for string quartet.

But to its credit, the Emerson put feeling and emotion into their playing Wednesday, unlike the last time the group was here a couple of years back. At that time, the four just went through the motions and delivered a ho-hum performance.

Not so Wednesday night.

This time, all four players were engaging, and they invested emotion and sincerity into their readings, which helped elevate some of these rather ordinary works they played to a somewhat higher level.

Among the pieces they played were selections from "The Cypresses," an early work that was originally written as a cycle of 18 songs, from which years later Dvorak took 12 and arranged them for string quartet.

The Emerson played nine of these arrangements, as well as one more as an encore. They're delightfully melodic pieces and have a lot of charm, but taken as a whole, as they were Wednesday, they become deathly repetitive and monotonous.

The group gave a wonderfully lyrical account of these pieces and captured their expressiveness with their nicely nuanced playing and rounded phrases.

The first half concluded with the early String Quartet in E flat major, op. 51.

The music is rather insipid along the lines of "The Cypresses," but the Emerson made a valiant effort to make it come alive, and they succeeded in that. The group infused their playing with lyricism that was filled with nuances and subtleties. They played with rounded tones and resonance and brought articulation and expression to their account.

The final work on the program was the String Quartet in G major, op. 106, one of the composer's late works.

The Emerson attacked the work boldly right from the start, giving a robust and invigorating account of what ostensibly is Dvorak's greatest statement in the string quartet medium.

e-mail: ereichel@desnews.com

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