Emerson Quartet Serves Tchaikovsky With A Side Of Schoenberg

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This is a rather unusual pairing, as Tchaikovsky and Schoenberg seem about as far apart as any two composers could be. (Although one could argue that Schoenberg’s highly-expressive, post-romantic work is not too distant in style from Tchaikovsky’s even more highly-expressive Pathètique symphony.)

In any case, these are not the most intense readings of either work. The Emerson Quartet players (with the addition of Paul Neubauer on viola and Colin Carr on cello) exhibit their usual polish and precision, along with a tonal sweetness that really enhances the cantabile passages in Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence (the slow movement in particular), and especially so in Verklärte Nacht’s serene conclusion.

But there’s a nagging sense of not-quite-scratching-the-itch in both performances that derives from what feels like a less than total emotional commitment. You’ll hear commitment aplenty in the Schoenberg from the Juilliard Quartet with Yo-Yo Ma on Sony, and Janine Jansen & friends on Decca, with both ensembles delivering powerful, moving performances, while the Ying Quartet and Borodin Quartet (the classic recording with Rostropovich) provide greater dramatic and emotional impact in the Tchaikovsky.

The Emerson performances may be handicapped by the distant and reverberant recording, which occasionally obscures inner voices (critical to both works) and blunts the music’s sharp edges. Despite the above, this coupling does compel due to its novelty, and if you just want these two particular works mated on disc, this Emerson release will fill the bill.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Journeys
Reference Recording: Tchaikovsky: Borodin Quartet (Melodiya); Ying Quartet (Telarc), Schoenberg: Juilliard Quartet (Sony); Janine Jansen, et al (Decca)

    Emerson String Quartet; Paul Neubauer (viola II); Colin Carr (cello II)

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