Emerson Quartet celebrates 40th anniversary at Montreal Chamber Music Festival

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The Montreal Chamber Music Festival always manages to satisfy even the most demanding mélomane of the city. Long-time friends of artistic director Denis Brott, the Emerson Quartet has become somewhat of a mainstay of the Festival. The Emerson Quartet (Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violins, Lawrence Dutton, viola, and Paul Watkins, cello) celebrated their 40th anniversary on February 1st with a program of Mozart, Ravel, and Tchaikovsky.

The concert opened with Mozart’s Quartet no. 15 in D minor. Their round and brilliant sound – a never-failing feature of the quartet — captured the audience’s attention from the opening notes. Lead violinist Eugene Drucker executed the high notes with ease and sparkle. Even with some minor ensemble issues, the second movement was full of reserved serenity and asceticism of expression. In the third movement – a Menuetto with more of a dramatic then dance character – the ensemble demonstrated restraint in expression, only relieved by the Trio, which brought a child-like levity to the movement. In the last movement, presumably representing Mozart’s wife giving birth to their first son, there was a slight lack of articulation. However, it was performed with unity of dynamics and perfect balance. The structure of the movement showcased the mastery of each player.

The highlight of the concert was Ravel’s Quartet in F. Written in 1903 for the Prix de Rome, the piece was not received well, nor did it receive the prestigious prize. In a show of democracy, Philip Setzer took the lead. Full of impressionist colour, the first movement was performed with purity of phrases and transparent texture. The beautiful viola solo by Laurence Dutton was a cerise sur le gateau. The second movement showed a deliberate choice of nuances, variety of colour, sparkly rhythms, and remarkable precision of pizzicato. Opening with the gorgeous timbre of Paul Watkins’s cello, the third movement, though full of contrast colour and details, was executed with the perfect balance, creating a strong cinematographic effect. In the finale the quartet displayed an impressively fast tempo with the synchronization of a Swiss watch and perfect rhythmic organization.

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Emerson Quartet, Photo: Lisa Mazzucco

Emerson Quartet, Photo: Lisa Mazzucco

After the intermission, Eugene Drucker returned to first violin. Tchaikovsky’s Quartet no. 3 in E-Flat – written after the death of Czech violinist Ferdinand Laub – features warm solo violin and cello lines. Unfortunately, the quartet aim’s for unity in musical phrasing detracted from the drama inherent in the movement’s thematic diversity. The second movement, executed with accuracy, lacked some lightness of the bow strokes. The famous third movement with its funeral march was interpreted with restrained emotion, delivering a powerful image of the composer’s grief and pain over the death of his friend. In the final movement, the ensemble showed an exciting Russian dance character with their trademark elegance and eloquence. Throughout the piece, the smoothness of Emerson Quartet’s fine playing and thoughtful organization of musical development ruled over the temptation of showing heavy contrasts and a kaleidoscopic flow of characters.

Receiving a well-deserved standing ovation in Bourgie Hall, the Emerson Quartet proved once again that their enduring success is a result of their refined playing and tone quality.


About Author

A violinist who has proven the theory of self-actualization (The Strings Magazine), Dr. Nuné Melik made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium in 2016. She appeared as an invited artist at Disney Hall and the United Nations Headquarters, as well as Merkin Hall at Lincoln Center, Place des Arts, Bolshoy Hall, the International House of Music (Moscow), the Embassy of Russia in Copenhagen, (Montreal), and Toronto Arts Centre, to name a few. Dr. Melik has been an Artist-in-Residence in the Miami Chamber Orchestra and Orquestra Filarmonía. She was representing Canada at the XVII Sommet de la Francophonie, 2018. Dr. Melik is an invited artist at festivals such as the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, iPalpiti Festival, Festival Classica, Musical Armenia, Strad for Lunch, St.Barth Music Festival, among others. Exploring the unknown repertoire since 2010, she founded the ‘Hidden Treasure International’: a project of research, performance, and lectures of the rarely heard music. As a specialist in music of the Caucasus, Dr. Melik has performed and lectured in venues like Columbia University, Wayne State University, University of Arizona. In October 2017, she has produced the “Hidden Treasure” CD (Yamaha Artist Studio and McGill University) to a great critical acclaim. The musician has also directed a documentary about Armenian composer, Arno Babadjanian which was screened at the POM International Film Festival (Toronto). She now runs the non-for-profit organization named after the composer. Dr. Melik is a laureate of various international compeitions, and a recipient of such grants as the Canada Council for the Arts, the AGBU Arts Fellowship, McGill Graduate Excellence Fellowship, and Paul and Marie Gélinas Bursary. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Montreal, and a Doctorate Degree from McGill University. Dr. Melik plays on a 1824 Jean Baptiste Vuillaume violin and Claude Auguste Thomassin bow loaned by the Groupe Canimex.

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