Arts Blog

Emerson Quartet bridges the centuries (Music of Britten and Purcell)

The members of the Emerson String Quartet are keeping plenty busy, both onstage and in the studio. They’re touring, too: the four members of the Grammy® – winning chamber ensemble were in Portland recently (presented by Chamber Music NW), and will return in July. It’s all part of a well-deserved celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary. While their current cellist, British Paul Watkins, has been with them for several years (after David Finckel departed), the other three have been playing together since their days together at the Juilliard School. Their newest CD, Music of Britten and Purcell (on Decca) illustrates that the quartet is still forging new trails in music. In my recorded conversation found on this page, first violinist Eugene Drucker and violist Lawrence Dutton bridge the years between these two great English masters.

Henry Purcell (1659-1695) is regarded as England’s greatest composer – up to the 20th century. The greatest British composer to follow Purcell is Benjamin Britten, and what ties the two of them together was Britten’s admiration for his English predecessor. Britten re-orchestrated Purcell’s Chacony in g minor (“Chacony” was the English form of the word, Chaconne); he later composed the finale to his Quartet No. 2 on the structure of Purcell’s stately dance. Emerson Quartet explore these connections, but also go back to the source, by playing Purcell’s “Fantazias” (the spelling chosen for this recording), and the effect is wonderfully “pure” (to borrow Dutton’s word for these almost ethereal works), both in the performance and placement on either side of Britten’s quartets. If Emerson Quartet continues along this path, then I wish them a long and fruitful journey, and will look forward to what they discover along the way.

Chaconnes & Fantasias: Music of Britten & Purcell – Emerson String Quartet
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