The great hall of the Royal College of Physicians in Queen Street, Edinburgh was the imposing setting for the Young Musicians Trust concert given by the Emperor Quartet at the end of last month. Designed like a Greek temple, the space is dominated by great Corinthian columns which support a highly ornate roof complete with full-size statues of unidentifiable classical worthies. As a concert venue, the hall has poor sight lines but excellent acoustics, a most suitable chamber for chamber music.
Winners of the 1993 John Tunnell Trust Award, the Emperor Quartet already has a notable list of achievements including tours of Britain and Europe, and television and radio appearances.
From the first notes of Mozart's Quartet in G, K156, it was clear we were in for some spectacular playing. There was a strength and warmth of tone that elevated this early work into a piece of real stature. Although it was introduced into the programme simply as an appetiser, the performers played as if it were a minor masterpiece.
The capabilities of the Emperor Quartet were tested in Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet, where they successfully took risks with brisk tempi in the outer movements. Balance was such that each instrument could be heard even in the most dense textures.
They were joined by Katherine Spencer for the Clarinet Quintet by Brahms. Some weeks ago at the previous concert in this series, she had impressed with her performance of Mozart's Clarinet. Once again her rapport with the strings was most sensitive. The quiet playing in particular was spell-binding, with dynamic shading of exquisite poise. In contrast, the passionate slow movement possessed a wild improvisatory quality, evoking the Hungarian gypsy music which had inspired the composer, though in passages where the clarinet has a secondary role, Miss Spencer was too self-effacing so that her compatible tone faded into inaudibility.
Six years after their debut, the youthful Emperor Quartet have a permanent place in the concert world. They will be in residence at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival where they will be performing a series of Haydn String Quartets in St Cuthbert's Church.