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Emerson String Quartet play Alice Tully Hall / New York Times

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Since his debut with the Emerson String Quartet in 2013, when he replaced the cellist David Finckel, Paul Watkins has proved a valuable addition to that eminent ensemble. On Sunday at Alice Tully Hall, it was his gorgeous tone and elegant phrasing in the Adagio of Beethoven's String Quartet in F (Op. 18, No.1) that provided some of the most alluring moments in an otherwise mostly unmemorable afternoon. Mr. Watkins played his soaring operatic lines in the Adagio - the sketches for which Beethoven inscribed with the words "les derniers soupirs" ("the last sighs") - with burnished, glowing tone. The ensemble infused the opening movement with fiery propulsion and detailed nuance.

The program was the group's second of three concerts at Alice Tully Hall this spring juxtaposing Haydn's Opus 76 quartets with Beethoven's Opus 18 works, exploring the stylistic similarities between them. (The final show is on May 12.) The Emerson players opened with Haydn's String Quartet in D (Op. 76, No. 2), nicknamed "Fifths" because of the motif of descending fifths woven through the opening movement. The violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer share duties as first violinist; Mr. Setzer led during the "Fifths" and switched to the second chair for Beethoven's String Quartet in A (Op. 18, No. 5), which came next. The few pitch inconsistencies on the first half of the program were less bothersome than the indifferent playing. But the concert concluded on a lively note with a gracious reading of Haydn's String Quartet in D (Op. 76, No. 5). VIVIEN SCHWEITZER

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