S&H Concert review

BARTOK No 4 BRAHMS No 1 Emerson String Quartet, Wigmore Hall 19 March 2001

The playing in this lunchtime recital was immaculate, as radio listeners will have heard - virtually indistinguishable from a CD. But these two masterworks left us with little emotional charge or satisfaction from having heard them played live, and we did not sense that the players were reacting to each other at the time, nor to the audience which packed the Wigmore Hall. One felt that they would have been exactly the same last month or next week, wherever their touring
takes the Emerson Quartet. A little extra interest came from their Mendelssohn minuet-scherzo encore, for which the violinists changed places.

The event left us pondering whether live-music making, at the highest international level, is not being compromised by demanding touring schedules and the standards which CDs have led us to expect?

We had a similar experience at the same hall recently with the equally renowned Borodin Quartet.

For a better chamber music experience, hear an up-coming chamber group, still at the stage of questioning (and probably arguing at rehearsal) or go to the Conway Hall on a Sunday at 6.30, where you can sense a response to that special audience and, metaphorically, feel rosin flying and the excitement of horse-hair on catgut (or their modern equivalents) with just enough risk and danger to keep everyone on or off stage involved all together.

Pondering my (probably idiosyncratic) reaction on the way home, I read (Sir) Derek Jacobi in The Times warning about the danger of alienation resulting from acknowledged eminence, and how destructive is performance on 'automatic pilot'. He needs 'to be so caught up in the situation that he doesn't know what will happen when he goes on stage - - if mind and emotions react fast enough, the words will begin to sound as if they've never been written down or rehearsed; each performance will be subtly different - - and a long run never boring'.

What do readers, including listeners at home and performing musicians, have to say to this problem?

Peter Grahame Woolf

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