By Lawrence Budmen

When violinist Eugene Drucker was sidelined by surgery, the Emerson String Quartet’s scheduled appearances at Festival Miami (in collaboration with the Friends of Chamber Music) on Monday and Tuesday became the Emerson trio and Friends. Three of the renowned quartet’s members were joined by a group of seasoned veterans and emerging young musicians at UM Gusman Hall. 

The music making at Monday’s concert came close to that elusive standard of perfection. The Emerson has long been the aristocrat of quartets. Violinist Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton, and cellist David Finckel displayed their plush, velvet tones in Schubert’s sunny, Mozartean String Trio in B-Flat Major.

Pianist Gilbert Kalish joined the players for a bracing account of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor. His polished keyboard technique had the lightness and grace of quicksilver. The pungent opening chords of the first movement riveted attention. Kalish projected the darkness beneath the finely chiseled melodies of the Andante. The players brought effervescent vivacity to the concluding Rondo. Here was Mozart playing of the most elevated variety.

In Brahms’s Piano Quartet in A Major, Kalish and the Emerson threesome found the autumnal hues of the initial Allegro. The gentle Brahmsian lyricism of the Poco Adagio really soared. The musicians brought high voltage energy (abetted by Kalish’s pianistic bravura) to the Allegro Finale – the culmination of a masterful performance. 

In the familiar Handel- Halvorson Passacaglia on Tuesday night violist Roberto Diaz displayed agility and refinement. Violinist Erin Keefe began tentatively but played with greater security as the piece progressed.

Despite some balance problems Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata received an exciting performance from cellist Andres Diaz and pianist Valentina Lisitsa. Diaz’s noble cello sang with rhapsodic eloquence in the Russian yearning of the Andante. 

The precision ensemble of Ms. Keefe, Setzer, Dutton, Finckel, and Roberto and Andres Diaz delivered a supercharged rendition of Brahms’s Sextet in G Major. The airy lightness of the Scherzo preceded a Presto endowed with Hungarian paprika. The rollicking vigor of the finale capped a performance marked by musicianship of the highest level.

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