Review: Eastern wonder in abundance as Esmé String Quartet open Leamington Music season in style

The Esm String Quartet
The Esm String Quartet

Clive Peacock reviews The Esmé String Quartet at the Pump Room, Leamington

Leamington Music’s 14th winter season opened with a substantial dose of eastern magic. The Esmé String Quartet were winners of the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition last year. This beautifully presented Korean foursome, in bright colours armed with iPads, took charge of a very near full-house at the Pump Room to play Haydn, Beethoven, Schumann and a wee bit of Piazzolla.

Now based in Cologne, they are coached at the Musikhochschule in Lübeck by Heime Muller, well remembered as a fine violin player with the Artemis Quartet until 2007 before focal dystoma forced him to retire from playing. The foursome formed at the Hochschule für Music und Tanz in 2016 and have enjoyed a very rapid rise to well-deserved stardom. They are astonishingly competent individual players and combine so very well to produce exceptional phrasing, develop exceptional aggression at times and delightfully extended pauses at other times.

Haydn’s Quartet in G Op. 33 No 5 was brought to life quickly after its very quiet beginning, the quartet showing just how easily they can produce boldly-coloured passions, indeed a wide range of colours and moods throughout the work.

Beethoven’s Quartet in F Op.18 No 1 encourages dissonance between lead violinist Wonhee Bae and viola player Jiwon Kim in the aggression of the third movement after the restraint of the slow movement. That slow movement was beautifully played with the top line always clearly identified; there was nothing shouty about their playing – much of it wittily played and exuberant.

Robert Schumann’s Quartet in A minor Op. 41 No 1 brought a brilliantly delivered first night of the winter season to a close. The work is set alight by the pulsating Scherzo before the third movement, Adagio, brought cellist Ye-eun Heo into the limelight with some very long pedal points. The foursome then embarked on the energetic final themes of the final Presto.

Finally the encore, Piazzolla’s La Muerte del Angel; a sublime evening ended.