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Beethoven • Bridge • Unsuk Chin: String Quartets, etc

Esmé Quartet (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Beethoven • Bridge • Unsuk Chin
Beethoven: String Quartet in F major, Op. 18 No. 1; Unsuk Chin: ParaMetaString for Strings Quartet and Tape; Bridge: Novelletten
Esmé Quartet
Alpha Classics ALPHA 590   62:50 mins


Since winning the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in 2018, the Esmé Quartet have fast established an enviable reputation. This accomplished debut album matches the ensemble’s youth and vigour with three composers’ earliest works for string quartet in an imaginative programme rich in contrasts.

While not strictly Beethoven’s first quartet (Op. 18 No. 3 was likely written first), Op. 18 No. 1 is one of the composer’s earliest adventures in the form and the Esmé Quartet bring a compelling performance of confidence and clarity. Their account of the first movement is well-paced with a strong sense of direction, while the following Adagio, purportedly inspired by the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet, is deftly handled in being alive to the score’s drama and pathos without ever veering into sentimentality. This restraint sees the brisk Scherzo lacking a certain electricity, however, but the quartet offers a nimble and witty reading of the tricksy finale.

ParaMetaString (1996) is the first quartet by Korean composer Unsuk Chin and scored for live quartet plus electronically-modified violin and cello tracks. Chin uses this blend of real and virtual to haunting effect, from the convulsive tremolo textures of the opening to the haze of glissandos in the third movement; the work is performed here with beauty and precision.

Offering an intriguing but not unwelcome contrast, the disc closes with Frank Bridge’s delightful and French-infused Novelletten(1904). The quartet again shines, bringing a sumptuous tone and a real sense of style and character to Bridge’s charming early work to complete this excellent debut album.


Kate Wakeling