COMPOSERS: Grieg; Nielsen; Sibelius
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg; Nielsen; Sibelius
WORKS: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 27
PERFORMER: Emerson Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5960
There are quite a few good Nordic string quartets – but great ones? Alas, there’s nothing in this form that matches the sustained mastery of, say, Sibelius’s Seventh Symphony, or Nielsen’s Fifth. But a strong, sympathetic performance of Sibelius’s one mature quartet,
Voces Intimae, can make you regret that he didn’t stick with the medium. True, some of the writing would sound better rescored for string orchestra (especially the airy, tremolo-dominated second movement), but there are so many striking ideas, powerfully developed. And when you have an intelligent, technically almost superhuman ensemble like the Emerson Quartet, playing with obvious feeling for the music, reservations about quartet-style fly out of the window – well, mostly. It’s a compelling performance with plenty to say about the music, right from the seemingly austere opening solos.
It’s good too to hear the Emersons finding a good deal more than lyrical charm in the Grieg Quartet. In the end, they can’t quite banish the old idea that Grieg was more a miniaturist than a large-scale thinker – received wisdom isn’t always wrong – but the playing is still richly enjoyable from every angle. I’m not so sure about the thick, vibrato-laden tone the Emersons adopt at the beginning of Nielsen’s At the Bier of a Young Artist: even suggestions of the histrionic are surely out of place here. But again it’s good to hear this music taken so seriously, and so shaped so powerfully. The recordings are as fine as this truly outstanding playing deserves. Stephen Johnson