Three years ago, the youthful Escher Quartet played here, and I carped about the musicians’ Schubert, saying, “here, perceptiveness, imagination and aesthetic context are at a premium, and here the Escher has a ways to go. . . . The interpretation too often substituted tempo changes and pauses for phrasing and style.” Well, they have come a way since then, as they showed Saturday afternoon at the Library of Congress.
The foursome is still perhaps a little callow (two forgot their ties, and one brought a bottle of Deer Park onstage), but they are a different quartet than I heard in 2009. In the place of gimmicky ideas, they are now digging deeper into musical substance and focusing their considerable skills on important basic goals. I don’t ascribe it all to one player, but Escher’s new second violinist, Aaron Boyd, is one of the best I’ve ever heard; loads of personality and a chameleon-like ability to fit into every role. His playing has challenged the group and taken it up a notch.
I have never seen the point of string quartets programming transcriptions; their existing repertoire is far broader than any one group could ever cover. Instead of arrangements by Britten and Escher’s violist, Pierre Lapointe, of Renaissance works, it would have been far preferable to have heard some Haydn. But in the two main offerings — the Britten Second Quartet and Beethoven’s Op. 132 — Escher made clear that it is now one of the top young quartets before the public today and likely to get even better.
What the group yet lacks in gravitas and imagination will come if the players keep striving and studying together. But what they now have, some rivals never acquire: four strong, well-matched voices that balance individuality with the imperatives of good quartet playing.
This is a group to watch.
Battey is a freelance writer.