The Emerson String Quartet, which made a hugely positive impression last week at the Ford Amphitheatre, returned there on Monday with heavyweight reinforcements in tow. The results were decidedly mixed.
With cellist Lynn Harrell as the fifth member, the Emersons commenced with the mighty C-major Quintet of Schubert in a performance that gained cohesiveness as it progressed. But, one felt like an interloper at a rehearsal.
Perhaps the external discord to which the players were subject at the outset--a lengthy squawking competition among a horde of angry blue jays--contributed to a disheveled opening movement.
Persistent problems included ragged entries (first violinist Philip Setzer refusing to make eye contact with his fellows), intonational irregularities and cello imbalance, Harrell's gruffly imposing tone overshadowing in unison passages the lighter, sweeter sounds of the Emerson's David Finckel.
The enormous adagio movement, with its demands for infinitely varied soft dynamics, was, however, handsomely shaped and executed, as was the poignant trio of the scherzo.
While there were no major mishaps in the finale, additional rehearsal time would likely have resulted in greater subtlety (violinist Setzer's "expressive" slides seemed quite beside the point) and dynamic contrast.
None of these problems were evident in the second part of the blockbuster program: Schoenberg's "Verklarte Nacht," in which the Emersons and Harrell were joined by Heiichiro Ohyama, Los Angeles Philharmonic principal violist and an assistant conductor.
Eugene Drucker (second violin in the Schubert) fulfilled the first violinist's responsibilities admirably, enforcing ensemble tautness without stifling individual impulses in what is essentially a composition for six virtuoso soloists.