Music Review: Escher String Quartet at Kennedy Center

The quartet met the demands of the first quartets of Prokofiev and Janácek.
The quartet met the demands of the first quartets of Prokofiev and Janácek. (By Tristan Cook)
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Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Escher String Quartet, not yet five years old, is enjoying a burgeoning career including an affiliation with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In its well-attended debut Tuesday evening at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, the foursome played with clean, sharp attacks, blended nicely and dispatched technical challenges without effort.

The Escher does need some seasoning, of course. The program was two-dimensional, pairing Schubert's Quartet in G -- a work of Himalayan challenges -- against two very similar early 20th-century pieces, the first quartets of Prokofiev and Janácek. Typically, a quartet would want to display its wares in classical repertoire as well; perhaps the Escher did not feel sufficiently confident in all three periods. But there was no gainsaying its mastery of the spiky, early-modern style on the program's first half. This repertoire demands individual virtuosity and group precision, and the Escher met these demands handily.

Schubert, on the other hand, demands the ability to see behind the notes and to convey what's there to the listener. Here, perceptiveness, imagination and aesthetic context are at a premium, and here the Escher has a ways to go. From the stodgy opening statement -- each note of identical weight -- to the glib third movement Trio, to the typewriter-like finale, over and over the Escher missed chances to make music. The interpretation too often substituted tempo changes and pauses for phrasing and style. The quartet's abundant talent will hopefully take them to the next level in due course.

-- Robert Battey

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