Monday, July 15, 2013

Miró Quartet delivers a nuanced, subtle evening of Beethoven

The Miró Quartet. Photo by Jim Leisy.
The Miró Quartet undertook a feat that was near Herculean in magnitude on Thursday, July 11, when they performed all three of the Opus 59 String Quartets by Beethoven, the famous 'Razumovsky' quartets. The performance took place at Kaul Auditorium on the Reed College campus, as part of Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival. These pieces, which marked a striking new direction in the genre, are demanding both technically and emotionally, and to perform them all in one sitting was a work of determination and fortitude.

These players (Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violin, John Largess, viola, and Joshua Gindele, cello)  gave a performance that was marked by restraint, and that is using the word in its best sense. Such restraint was necessary to perform this lengthy concert of works that range all over the emotional and spiritual map: too much of a thing, at any given moment, and the balance would be all wrong. By the same token timidity when boldness was called for would yield a similarly dissatisfying result, and the Miró Quartet found the perfect equilibrium.

Throughout the works there were so many entrances that required delicacy of phrasing yet metronomic precision of timing for the effect to be pulled off properly, and there was not one entrance in an entire long evening of demanding entrances that was anything other than exactly what was called for. It would, even for top-notch performers, have been easy to become lost at certain points in the bewildering forest that constitutes these works, yet utter surety was a hallmark of the evening.  There were so many varying textures spread throughout, from surpising and modern-sounding sparseness to hammering monophony, filigreed counterpoint to waltzing scherzos, and the Miró Quartet never let a chance pass to highlight any of these differences. Their dynamic phrasing was exquisite...when an evening is marked by the restraint that they displayed, a giant range of emotional possibilities grows to the point where it feels almost infinite...every crescendo or decrescendo was imbued with meaning and lent this sense of limitless scope.

Some particularly memorable moments included the third movement of the titanic Op. 59 No. 1 quartet, wherein Ching's solo seemed to materialize inexorably and repeatedly from deep water, only to be subsumed again and then reappear a moment later in a slightly altered form, and then finally to hang there in a fragile, almost frail trill that was the only link between this and the sudden bold attacca into the bracing finale. In the opening of the No. 2 quartet, Ching showed he was capable of acrobatic, almost avian articulation. The Allegretto of this quartet was manic, spritely and intricate; well-navigated, it felt like candor, like a frank expression of the idea at hand and then come what may. The hectic tempo of the famous Presto of this work was as fast as I've ever heard it; the only unfortunate side effect of this was that some of the more delicate melodic material was blurred or obscured at this pace. In the third quartet, the variation in the fierce, pulsating rhythm of the opening movement was exhiliarating, and during the second movement Gindele played his pizzicato section with an unabashed, almost alarming plunk!

It is no surprise that the Miró Quartet is capable of delivering this kind of performance, but the fact that they actually did so is another thing entirely; capability and actuality are often two different things, but in this case the group gave as magnificent a perfect performance as one could want on a musical topic of such depth and variety. Every year CMNW brings such top-notch talent to town that one runs out of superlatives when trying to relate the experience of a performance, but that's not a bad thing. 

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