The Emerson String Quartet ("ESQ") brings elegance, grace, smoothness, flair and fire to these two string quartets, both of which are masterpieces of chamber music.
The ESQ, now playing together for over 20 years, deliver a seamless and superlative performance with a very clear sound that gives immediacy to the beautiful passages in these string quartets. This CD is just as powerful and moving as the ESQ's earlier, 1986 recording of Dvorak's American Quartet, Tchaikovsky's First Quartet, and Borodin's Second Quartet, even though these two string quartets are not nearly as well known. These two works radiate with passion, energy, beauty, and lyricism.
The Grieg string quartet has not only lyricism but urgency, depth, and intensity. In fact, this quartet, especially the first movement, is refreshingly different from what is often associated with the sound of Grieg, whose music, Debussy once stated, sounded to him like "bon bons wrapped in snow."
The thickly chordal, almost orchestral sonorities of the Grieg quartet shine in the hands of the ESQ, who make the most of the changing moods of this piece, alternating between its feelings of tension, lyricism, and spirited energy. The last movement in particular is an infectious virtuoso dance.
The sudden stops and starts of the Grieg quartet, which caused controversy and negative commentary when the work was first premiered, are dramatic, invigorating, and performed with flawless precision. The slow second movement (Romanze: Andantino) has more of the graceful lyricism that Grieg admirers will be familiar with. Yet, even in this passage, there are sudden tempo changes and a taut excitement that alternates with a sweet, dancelike melody, giving this work a sense of drama.
The Sibelius quartet has five movements and is also quite moving and powerful, ending with a passionate, fast-and-furious roller-coaster ride that is a breathtaking pleasure to listen to.
The 3:42 composition by the Danish composer, Carl Nielsen (1865 - 1931), is beautiful and interesting. It was performed at Nielsen's funeral in the Copenhagen Cathedral, 21 years after he had composed it in honor of a deceased friend. The 3-page booklet essay is detailed and informative.
I have listened to these beautiful Scandinavian gems several times and each time has been a delightful and stimulating experience. Very highly recommended. Total Playing Time = 63:41.