The Emerson String Quartet – famously fabulous, but…

Published 4:34 pm Monday, November 5, 2012

Ensemble of the Year, nine Grammies, the Avery Fisher Prize, over 30 acclaimed recordings, over 30 years performing all over the world – Yes, that Emerson String Quartet was here Oct. 19 to open Tryon Concert Association’s 58th season.

It would take many pages to convey their broad reach, varied accomplishments and coveted accolades.

Performances by musicians with long, successful careers are the most difficult to review. My expectations run high and are not often tempered by the fact that even the best don’t always bat a thousand. Four fellow fallible humans were on stage last week to bring the works of three composers to life. I was disappointed that this particular chamber music experience was not uniformly good from start to finish, though I did have a fine time imagining an optimal effort.

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The string quartets of Joseph Haydn, like his symphonies, are plentiful, innovative and timeless. To open with any one of them is a sure thing. They are appealing and accessible and provide a rich snapshot of an ensemble’s sound, style and synergy.

“Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4” opened with warm elegance and unfolded over the heartbeat of a beautiful thrumming cello line. Cellist David Finckel is well known to Tryon audiences as a skilled and passionate soloist, so it was a pleasure to note how tastefully he accomplished Felt, but Barely Heard through a number of homophonic passages.

Intonation difficulties popped up here and there in several imitative sections, as well as during the first singing viola line. I was never sure if someone’s perfect pitch was superseding relative pitch, or vice versa, or if they had had too much fun enroute to little old Tryon that day. Their decisive, yet folksy rendition of the third movement was redemptive and was one of the high points of the evening for me.