The Emerson String Quartet plus one-third of the Beaux Arts Trio, pianist Menahem Pressler, made an impressive fivesome Saturday evening at Baird Auditorium. They captured the romantic fervor of Schumann's exultant Quintet in E-flat, Op. 44, with white-hot intensity.
Before this culmination, however, both the quartet and Pressler had ample opportunity to display their wares separately. The Emerson Quartet opened with Haydn's Quartet in G, Op. 76, No. 1. Warmth and richness of tone, enhanced by the players' use of 17th- and 18th-century instruments, characterized this reading from first down-bow to finale. Haydn, uncharacteristically, places his dramatic emphasis in the second-movement adagio. Violinist Eugene Drucker and cellist David Finckel responded here with expressive exchanges. Seamless ensemble work from the quartet followed to perfection the ebb and flow of the closing allegro, where Haydn's puckish humor finally prevails over rumination.
Menahem Pressler next took the stage to offer his impressions of Debussy's "Estampes" for solo piano. An aggressive approach dominated all three movements. "Pagodes," laden with pentatonic scales and sundry bits of Orientalia, was harsh in spots, as Pressler colored the landscape with bold dashes of color, rather than subdued tints. His manner was much more suggestive and less explicit in the concluding "Jardins sous le pluie." Careful pedaling and a liquid touch brought an air of dreaminess to the two children's songs.
Schumann's Quintet could hardly have been performed more persuasively. The reading was propulsive, at times dizzyingly so. The only questionable spots occurred in the second-movement funeral march, whose primary melody repeatedly seemed too staccato. A minor quibble to be sure, considering the wealth of tonal beauty elsewhere, especially in the last movement's coda, featuring an elaborate double fugue.