BOSTON — Ah, the buttoned-down world of classical music. The Emerson String Quartet has been an almost annual visitor to the Celebrity Series of Boston and cellist David Finckel has been an integral part of its popularity in the 20 concerts. So why not acknowledge somewhere along the line that this Sunday’s concert was his final performance here with the quartet? I mean, you don’t have to give him a “Purple Haze” solo, but maybe at least a solo bow?
Oh, well, I guess that’s not who the Emersons are and who the Emersons are can’t be beat in the classical quartet world. Their traversals of the complete Beethoven, Bartok and Shostakovich quartets are dessert island discs for most any aficionado of chamber music who is planning to spend some time on said dessert island.
Sunday’s concert didn’t have anything to do with Beethoven, Bartok and Shostakovich but three amigos who came in between – Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak. Brahms hung out with Schumann and was mentor to Dvorak.
So the concert not only had a thematic integrity, but showed the four amigos off in full lyrical flower. The crystalline tone of the quartet is matched by the ability to play off each other in dark moods or light, delicate adagios or galloping allegros. The Schumann and Dvorak were decidedly lighter and Finckel is as fun to watch as he is to listen to when the mood gets more playful. He’d look Mephistophelean if it weren’t for the twinkle in his eye, the inclusiveness of his smile, and the arch of his eyebrow. The Schumann and Dvorak showcased the rich viola of Lawrence Dutton more than anyone while the Brahms was a meeting of the four minds.
A quicky encore of Anton Webern showed how all this 19th century romanticism was, in the words of violinist Philip Setzer, to be distilled in the 20th. (It was delayed a bit by a medical emergency in the balcony.)
The rest of us could be warmed by the warmth of both the playing and of Finckel’s final smile. Paul Watkins has a lot to live up to when he replaces him. The new Emersons will be at Tanglewood, per usual, this summer. Finckel has a ton of other projects cooking, including duets with his wife, Wu Han, and trios with her and Setzer. Maybe the Celebrity Series can schedule them all together at some point and it won’t be the final bow after all. Piano sextets, anyone?