Wednesday, August 1, 2018 Nokuthula Ngwenyama & Emerson String Quartet at Lincoln Center

Nokuthula Ngwenyama

Harry Rolnick

The Concord of the Emersons
New York
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
07/30/2018 -
Henry Purcell: Fantasia upon One Note, for Five Viols
Johann Sebastian Bach: Fugue in D Minor, from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (Arranged by Emanuel Alois Förster)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516
Felix Mendelssohn: String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major, Opus 87

Nokuthula Ngwenyama (Viola), Emerson String Quartet: Eugene Drucker, Philip Setzer (Violins), Lawrence Dutton (Viola), Paul Watkins (Cello)


Had he lived his more than three-score-years-and six, had he not caught that fatal respiratory disease because his wife made him sleep on the ground after too many ales in the local tavern, Henry Purcell would have altered music more than Monteverdi or Beethoven or Stravinsky. No doubt of it. And under the ten “skilled hands” of the Emerson Quartet and guest violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, even the first five minutes of last night’s concert would have proven that.

It was a transposition, of course. Purcell had composed his Fantasia upon One Note for five viols, and the quintet last night had the finest of strings to “civilize” the sounds which viols make so roughly. Besides that, it was a puzzle, a joke, a challenge for the composer to start off with the treble viol (in this case Second Violist Ngwenyama) to play the note C, and continue with that single note as a drone against the other instruments.


The Emerson Quartet is so experienced (even with a few changes of personnel) that one knows this will be music played with utmost skill, with expected brio and expected meditation when needed. For the Mozart and Mendelssohn, the Emerson offered sheer excellence and (in Purcell’s words) “angelical voices”.

Added to this was Ms. Ngwenyama, Californian born, with a Zimbabwean/Japanese heritage. So effortlessly did she blend in with the ensemble that she could rarely be singled out. But in those lovely duets in thirds during the Mendelssohn, with First Violist Lawrence Dutton, one could hear what a talent she is.


With the Emerson and Nokuthula Ngwenyama, one felt a momentum throughout the work, brilliant playing for a work whose own brilliance had intelligence, freshness and Classical symmetry.

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