Leah Hollingsworth reviews what she heard at Alice Tully Hall on 7 May 2019
Mozart’s third ‘Prussian’ Quartet no.23 in F major K590 offered a lively start to the Escher Quartet’s programme at Alice Tully Hall, with thoughtful colour changes that mirrored the harmonic shifts. Although the overall character of the Allegro moderato was good, the feel was a little too fast – almost tripping out of control in moments (the movement is only marked moderato after all). The third movement showed off a beautiful partnership between the two violins, and sparkling spiccato in the inner voices. The final Allegro boasted elegant playing that never sounded thin, and impressive clarity in the softest dynamics.
The Escher took one of Charles Ives’s most dense and complex pieces of music (String Quartet no.2) and gave a comprehensible, accessible and absolutely compelling performance. The musicians’ sheer commitment to the work was memorable. The first violin cadenzas in the Arguments movement were utterly lovely – elegant but not sappy – and the movement was brilliantly played overall. The opening to the final movement was gorgeous and the Eschers again perfectly captured the humanity of the music. But after such a dense work, a little more ritardando to prepare the end would be appropriate.
Beethoven’s op.131 followed the interval with a poignant opening and ethereal transition to the second movement. The playful tempo changes gave the molto vivace a quirky and light-hearted feel. The violin duo variation in the Andante was very special; their colours and timing created a beautiful sense of line and the movement highlighted the quartet’s pristine ensemble – their approaches to vibrato, bow use, sound, and phrase direction were all very well matched. The Quartet demonstrated committed, sincere playing throughout, with a passionate but sophisticated interpretation of each work.