WORKS: String Quartet No. 1 (From the Salvation Army); String Quartet No. 2; Scherzo (Holding your Own); String Quartet Op. 11
PERFORMER: Emerson String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 435 864-2 DDD
The Emerson Quartet’s sterling virtues – unanimity of tone and tuning, unfailing sense of shape and pace – are eloquently displayed in this coupling of the Ives and Barber quartets. In the toothsome core of the Barber, its great hymn-like Adagio later turned into a lollipop for string orchestra, their command of line and phrase is splendid, while they contrive to make a good case for the outer movements as well, which are never allowed to flag in energy or commitment.
The Ives quartets offer distinctly different challenges. The first, written in 1896 while Ives was still a Yale student, is a lush celebration of the composer’s vernacular inheritance and his academic training, pouring sacred melodies into the structural moulds of the 19th-century quartet. The second, begun just over a decade later, is Ives at his most bracing and unbuttoned, construed as a programmatic exchange between four equal voices which jostle for transcendence and the space to express themselves. The Emersons manage to bring every strand of this rapidly developing, protean argument to vivid life, just as they invest the warm sonorities of the First Quartet with an authentic Romantic eloquence. Andrew Clements