With Joseph Haydn’s unfinished Quartet in D Minor, Op. 103 acting as their first offering on Saturday, the Emerson String Quartet established the grain of character in their ensemble sound, the better to launch into two more challenging works by Alban Berg and Felix Mendelssohn. The Emerson’s violinists, Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, traded off duties as first violin. In this concert, Setzer handled the Haydn and Berg, while Drucker took the Mendelssohn.
Berg’s Quartet, Op. 3 is the most accessible of the composer’s works for string quartet, and, although its opening theme contains all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, it is not written in strict compliance with Arnold Schoenberg’s tone-row method. The group’s ability to listen was on display here, with cellist David Finckel at the center of things, his gaze shifting from violist Lawrence Dutton on his left to the two violinists on his right as he followed and underscored the drift of the musical conversation mapped out by the composer.
Mendelssohn’s Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, No. 3 made the perfect complement to the first half of the program, filling the period after intermission with four dazzling movements, each overflowing with ideas and harmonic beauties. The encore, an andante from Mozart’s String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575 sent the audience home, floating on air.