I must be missing something. The Emerson String Quartet is now the premier quartet in America, perhaps the world. It records whatever it wants for the most prestigious label (Deutsche Grammophon) and plays to large, enthusiastic audiences -- as it did Sunday evening in the Shriver Hall Series.
But on records and in concert -- this is now the third time I have heard this ensemble -- I keep asking myself what the fuss is about. This is a quartet that plays extremely well -- the hair-raising scherzo of the Shostakovich No. 7 had every note in place, and the Emerson had the stamina to get through Beethoven's great opus 132 Quartet in A Minor without any lapses over its 45-minute length.
But throughout the concert I often found myself wishing that I had stayed home and was listening to my favorite quartets on record. To my ears, the Emerson sounds as if it cares more about surfaces than depths, and in so personal a genre as the string quartet that affects me the way going to a great steakhouse and having to eat gray sole would.