Emerson String Quartet

Old World - New World

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As with many recordings by America's Emerson String Quartet, this three-disc set of Dvorák's chamber music is very, very good, but not great. One cannot fault the program -- four excellent string quartets, a magnificent string quintet, and a lovely transcription for string quartet of the song cycle Cypresses -- nor the performances, at least from a technical point of view. The recording is clear, deep, and vivid with every part audible, but with all parts coalescing into a coherent whole. In their almost 35 years together, the Emerson has developed a tight ensemble that still leaves room for each player to shine, and the interpretations are always faithful to the letter of the scores. But where one wants soul and emotional depth, the Emerson disappoints. There ought to be more anguish in the central Andante con moto from the E flat major Quartet, Op. 51, more shades of meaning in the opening Allegro non tanto of the E flat major Quintet, Op. 97, and especially more overt emotionalism in Cypresses. Though these performances are fine as far as they go, there are many that go deeper into the music and deliver much more satisfying interpretations, for example, the recordings by the Prague Quartet, the Vlàch Quartet, the Panocha Quartet, and the Smetana Quartet.

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