Assembly Rooms, Bath
The Mozartfest, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary, opened with a performance by the Emerson String Quartet of two of Mozart's Prussian quartets, K589 and 590, the last he wrote.
The Emersons' characteristic transparency helped the musical fabric to emerge clearly, highlighting Mozart's ingenuity in handling the diplomatic mission of focusing extra interest in the cello line so as to please both Wilhelm Friedrich II, a keen player, and Jean-Pierre Duport, the cellist in charge of the Prussian king's chamber music. David Finckel took evident pleasure in the regal melodic lines.
In a normal quartet lineup, first and second violin roles are fixed in job description and function; not so with the Emersons, where Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer alternate. Setzer led in Beethoven's Quartet in C Sharp Minor, Op 131, yet the emotional engagement wasn't more urgent, the sequence of seven movements was simply allowed to unfold with its own organic logic. It was in the well-chosen encore, Mozart's arrangement for string quartet of Bach's Fugue in E Flat Major from Book II of The Well-Tempered Clavier, that the Emersons' calm, almost dispassionate, approach came into its own.
Daniel Hope and Sebastian Knauer's violin and piano recital the following morning was in complete contrast. Hope's relaxed manner is balanced by burning commitment, for heart-on-sleeve read violin-on-shoulder, and his exploration of the great 19th-century virtuoso Joseph Joachim through the composers he championed was immensely satisfying. In particular, Brahms' Sonata in G major Op 78 was invested with a richly burnished tone; the Hope and Knauer partnership is well honed and their articulation of Brahms's profound sensibilities was instinctive and unselfconscious.
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