In performance: Escher Quartet
Escher returns to KenCen for energetic sophomore outing
by Charles T. Downey
On Monday night the Escher String Quartet returned to the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, a little over a year since their debut in that venue. This young ensemble, established in 2005, enjoys an active and prestigious concert calendar but still sounds not quite fully formed. Their performance in this concert was marked by extraordinary verve and intensity – perhaps too much so.
Bartók’s second string quartet, particularly the barbaric attacks and mechanical repetition of motifs in the second movement, suited the foursome’s style the best. Unexpectedly, they produced the least strident tone in this fearlessly dissonant music and had the most solid rhythm, even as they gave a convincing fluidity to the folksong-like tempo fluctuations indicated by the composer. Bartók concluded this quartet with an elegiac slow movement, which the Eschers began with a somber, glowing sound.
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That unforced approach was exactly what Brahms’s first quartet lacked, right from its opening measures. The overproduction of sound from the lower strings, especially amber-toned cellist Andrew Janss, may have been partially responsible for the overbearing tone of first violinist Adam Barnett-Hart, undercut by a tight vibrato. After an uninspired second movement and a third movement marred by capriciously added tempo fluctuations (which made the piece neither Moderato nor Comodo as Brahms wanted), the fourth movement finally matched the turbulence of the performance.
Beethoven’s op. 59, no. 2 fared better, with an inwardly focused intensity in the brooding first movement. The other movements, however, also seemed obstreperous, the loud moments too hammered, the pleasant dance of the third movement too heavy. Without a more collaborative approach – more give, less take – in which the players are willing to yield to one another more and let the sound unfold more organically, this quartet’s appeal will remain limited.
--Charles T. Downey
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