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Thread: Emerson Quartet

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Default Emerson Quartet

    This venerable ensemble has announced they will disband in 2023 after a remarkable 47 years of performing: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/26/a...g-quartet.html Their style, which tends toward the muscular but is highly technically accomplished, has proven to be quite polarizing at least on this forum. I admit that I am one of those who ordinarily sees their playing as harsh and monochrome with exaggerated contrasts, but it is undeniable that they have done a great service to all chamber music enthusiasts with their distinguished bevy of recordings, and their playing oozes intrepid personality. The two recordings of theirs that I am partial to are the Grieg/Sibelius disc and their Brahms. I also love their traversal of the Grosse Fuge - it's ferociously and thrillingly virtuosic. What are your favorites?
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    Senior Member starthrower's Avatar
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    They've had a great run! I haven't listened to very many of their recordings but I really like their Berg Lyric Suite / Wellesz CD. It's a good recording that does them justice. And their performance of the Lyric Suite really got me listening to that piece. I hope our local chamber music society can book them during one of their remaining concert tours.
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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    I've always liked the Emersons. Off the top of my head......

    Berg Lyric Suite
    Late Beethoven
    Schumann (their recent set contains possibly their best recordings)
    Some Schubert
    Some Shosty
    Brahms
    Ives
    Some Mendelssohn

    Like the Auryn's and Artemis quartets they'll be sorely missed especially as they've now escaped DG and the crap engineering that spoiled some otherwise excellent recordings.
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-30-2021 at 23:43.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    I saw them live and they were awesome. At the end of their program the audience could choose which Beethoven quartet we wanted them to play and they did.
    They then stayed after the concert at a room set up with table, chairs and
    champagne and signed their Beethoven sets for you and just plain autographs if that's what you wanted. They stayed and chatted with whoever stayed.
    They were really great guys.
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    The Emerson's recording of Samuel Barber's String Quartet, and the two quartets by Charles Ives is one of my favorite discs by them. The Grieg/Sibelius and Berg/Wellesz discs are likewise excellent, I agree. I've also liked their Ravel/Debussy disc, though I don't think it would be my top first or second choice for these works. It took me a long time to like their "edgier" interpretations of Mozart's 6 String Quartets dedicated to Haydn, but I've finally come around.



    Last edited by Josquin13; Aug-30-2021 at 23:53.

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    I think I'm an outlier, but I like their Bartok cycle. Their precision and dynamic playing is a good match for how I want the Bartok quartets to sound.

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    The Emerson Quartet does not figure prominently in my collection. The reasons are trite and practical. When I started buying CDs, theirs were expensive singles and when they became boxed or mid-priced years later I had the core repertoire already and the further expansion concerned either different repertoire or older recordings or really new ones with younger ensembles.

    So I think I only have their mid+late Beethoven and I had the Schumann piano quartet+quintet disc with Pressler which I found rather bland and culled at a stage of slimming down. I also heard the Bartok quartets but this was a long time ago and I don't own the discs.
    I have not such a clear recollection of their late Beethoven, but the middle quartets were their first recording I got when it appeared separately in a Beethoven edition and they are quite spectacular in their virtuosity, so they must be my favorite Emerson recording.

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    I also like the Grieg/Sibelius disc. I don't have their Bartok, but I believe the recording which announced their presence with authority was their Bartok cycle. Perhaps I'm confusing them with the Tokyo String Quartet. I think their recording of the Debussy and Ravel String Quartets was solid, and they've recorded some respectable Haydn, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Dvorak; they might not be reference recordings, but, as I said, these are very solid discs I enjoy. There's also a good Berg disc.

    I think they may have been at their best when they augmented the ensemble. I loooove their recording of the Brahms and Mozart Clarinet Quintets with Shifrin, and the same goes for their live Schubert Quintet with Rostropovich. If one went to an average record/cd store in pre-internet days, it was likely that most quartet purchases would be from the Emersons. That's what the record stores stocked most frequently in the chamber music sections (at least in the U.S.).
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Sep-01-2021 at 03:55.
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    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    I'm a fan of the Emerson String Quartet, and find the flack they receive around these parts utterly baffling, even more so than the Karajan bashing.

    I've heard the Emersons live on numerous occasions*, especially around the time they were recording their Shostakovich cycle, and I recall several programs pairing late Shostakovich with late Beethoven. The performances were absolutely riveting; their playing invited some of the most intense and intimate listening I've ever experienced in music.

    The Emersons' Bartók is justly famous, and still the set I reach for the most often. I'm also very fond of their complete Webern album, which is gorgeous and does not get mentioned nearly often enough. Their Beethoven cycle remains one of my top 5, if not necessarily my favorite overall. Their many recordings of quartets by American composers are ubitiquously authoritative. And Schubert, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Ravel, Debussy, Sibelius ... so much great stuff.

    All in all, they've had an incredible career. They've always demonstrated tremendous professionalism, commitment, and versatility. In terms of their recorded legacy: far more hits than misses.

    (Speaking of a near-near-miss: around when they recorded Schumann Op. 44 and Op. 47 with Pressler, I heard them play at least Op. 44 live with Craig Sheppard. I wish they had recorded that rep with Sheppard. But I suppose Sheppard isn't quite the same level of celebrity as Pressler, regardless of quality, for the likes of Deutsche Grammophon. Pity.)

    *NB I had been well impressed by their recordings, especially Bartók, well before I heard them live.
    Last edited by Knorf; Aug-31-2021 at 22:00.

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    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    The one disc of theirs I like that no one has mentioned as yet is their Bach, Art of Fugue not their core repertoire but a disc I enjoy a lot.
    I find the voices and lines of the piece easier to follow when played by a string quartet than by a keyboard.
    Last edited by Malx; Aug-31-2021 at 21:24. Reason: corrected smelling mistake

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    Knorf: I forgot about the excellent Barber/Ives disc.

    Mal: The Bach Art of Fugue disc is one of the recordings I've been meaning to suggest for the Weekly String Quartet thread. Unfortunately, it's a long list.
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    I went to their concert years ago and was surprised that they gave equally great live performance as they did in recordings. Honestly, I am not a big fan of their intepretation of Mozart, Beethoven or Mendelssohn, but I like their performance of Dvorak, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky.

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    They have given programs for many years at Stony Brook University located on Long Island N. Y. It is about a 35 minute drive from my home, so I never missed a chance to hear them.I guess I have heard them play 10 or so times. Always enjoyed their concerts .

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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    I only heard them once, in 2018 (after cellist Paul Watkins joined the group, replacing David Finckel) at Rockport. They played the Grosse Fugue and the Schubert Quintet D956 (with Colin Carr, who had played the six cello suites a few nights earlier). I was more impressed with them live than on recordings. All of their recordings are technically impressive, but I'm one of the people who finds them a bit cold and aloof.

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    I have seen the Emerson Quartet perform live about 3 times over the years as part of our Chamber Music concert series.
    They were never among my favorite string quartets. To my ears, there was always a bit of “slickness” in their playing. Or perhaps as the previous poster - walsimer - put it, the Emerson struck me as a “bit cold and aloof”.

    There are many many other string quartets I have heard lives and/ or on rcrdings I much prefer.

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