Even though the Emerson Quartet has been together for
25 years, they have only recorded one quartet by Joseph Haydn, the father
of the string quartet. Here, in "celebration" of their 25th
anniversary, they release a double-CD containing seven of Haydn’s finest
It is hard to remain impassive when listening to this
recording. The Emerson quartet exudes such energy that one is held rapt
by their enthusiasm. Some of the movements are carefully crafted works
of subtle harmony and counterpoint; others are rhythmic displays of
vitality and liveliness.
The Emerson quartet capture both the vibrant energy
of the early quartets and the intensity of the later works. The brilliant
final movement of the op. 20 no. 5 quartet, a two-part fugue played
so magnificently here that I could not keep myself from listening to
it over and over. The first movement of the op. 77 no. 1 quartet in
G major is a brilliant piece with cascading melodies, and is superbly
played, with perfect dynamics and a foot-tapping rhythm.
The sound is so perfect that one feels very close to
the music, as if the performers were right next to the listener. As
violinist Philip Setzer says in the liner notes, "recording [brings]
an intimacy to the listening experience. …the microphone is closely
placed, and most people listen to this music in their living room. It
brings the music back to the ‘drawing room’, the salon. In that way,
the recording is more accurate than a performance in a big concert hall."
The sound indeed seems to be designed with this in mind. On headphones,
the soundscape of the quartet is magnificent, each instrument clearly
in its own location, and the subtleties of the music heard perfectly.
This is one of the finest quartet recordings I have ever heard, both
in the actual sound and in the dynamics of the performers. Few quartets
can boast such unity and texture.
There is great joy in this recording; the joy of a
group of four tight musicians, who get into a groove and want to share
their love for the music. This is no pedantic performance - the Emerson
quartet vibrates with energy.
A magnificent recording, which deserves the utmost
attention. While it is unlikely that the Emerson Quartet will record
a complete set of Haydn’s quartets, one must hope that they will add
more of them to their discography. This is a real gem.
(Note: this set also includes a sampler CD of other
recordings by the Emerson Quartet.)