I went to hear the Emerson Quartet’s concert here in Philadelphia last night, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. They opened with Haydn’s last, incomplete quartet – just the inner movements from what would have been an exceptional four-movement work. (What am I saying? Are there any “unexceptional” Haydn quartets?) This was followed by the Philadelphia premiere of a recent quartet by Lawrence Dillon called Through the Night. This is a big statement – about 33 minutes worth. The piece is basically a huge variation set on the traditional tune “All Through the Night”, framed with atmospheric “Twilight” music. Some of the variations are more straightforward, with the tune readily apparent; others are more fantastical. Two dream-like movements serve as keystones for the set. There is a remarkable variety of affect and character here, with idiomatic quartet writing throughout. The trademark Emersonian intensity and razor-sharp ensemble served the piece beautifully. The same qualities were apparent in the big Schubert G major quartet that closed the program, the Emersons reveling the major/minor chiaroscuro of the piece, and never tiring in the fiercely driven – but always graceful – third and fourth movements.
Larry Dillon is on something of a roll with string quartets, with recent performances by the Borromeo, Daedalus and Cassatt quartets. Visit his website and read his blog for more info. David Finckel, cellist of the Emerson, blogs as well.