Review: EMERSON STRING QUARTET AND SHAI WOSNER at Alice Tully Hall At Lincoln Center

By: Oct. 26, 2018

From the magisterial opening chords of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Quartet in E flat major (K.493, 1786) to the intricate, exciting Quintet No.1 for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello of William Bolcom (2000), and concluding with the charming, folk music-influenced Quartet in G major for Strings by Antonin Dvorak Op.106 (1895), the Emerson String Quartet's concert on Sunday, October 21, 2018 was a rich and satisfying chamber music feast.

Israeli-born pianist Shai Wosner joined the Emerson for the first half of the concert. This Mozart piano quartet, the second of two, gives all four players a chance to shine, which they certainly did. Mr. Wosner's clean articulation of rapid runs, unblurred by the pedal, was a delight to hear. Although his attacks were at times a little on the overly-bright, even somewhat harsh side, his releases were gentle and elegant. He proved a worthy partner to the string players, responding to them and leading them when the music demanded. The four players made sparklers out of Mozart's musical thoughts.

William Bolcom's Piano Quintet No.1 was originally written to showcase the exceptional talents of violinist Isaac Stern. Mr. Stern premiered the work in 2001, the last year of his life, with three players of the Emerson String Quartet. Sunday's performance of this work was the first time it was performed at the Chamber Music Society and included two participants in the original premiere, violinist Philip Setzer and violist Lawrence Dutton. The opening "Sonata Movement" used a four note theme which brought to mind Robert Schumann's "Fugue on B-A-C-H". Indeed, Mr. Bolcom considers Schumann and Johannes Brahms his spiritual models. Although written in a thoroughly modern idiom, the influence of both composers manages to peek through here and there throughout the piece. It is not the subtlest of compositions, nor is it the easiest to musically navigate, but it certainly sounded as though it was fun to play. Mr. Wosner handled the fiendishly difficult piano part with finesse, and cellist Paul Watkins could be seen smiling from time to time.

The concert concluded with Dvorak's sunny Quartet in G major for Strings op.106. Written at a time of Dvorak's life when he was happy to be back home in Bohemia after a three year sojourn in New York City, and after a long period of compositional rest, the quartet gives ample opportunity for the two violinists (Philip Setzer and Eugene Drucker) to sing in tandem. The adagio (ma non troppo) movement was ravishingly beautiful, with passionate playing by the violins and viola over a gentle pizzicato heartbeat for the cello. It is the most folk influenced section of the work, although it's fair to say that Czech folk music plays a major role in much of Dvorak's oeuvre. The muscular and breathless third movement led to an exciting finale, which provided a thrilling end to this lovely afternoon of music-making.