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Recital
HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018
One of the anomalies in the long ago “Golden Era” of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didn’t play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuber’s work to the public’s attention, and now it seems to be on almost every...
Symphony
SPLENDID JUPITER AND ZOOMING CONCERTO AT VALLEJO SYMPHONY SEASON FINALE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Over the past two years the Vallejo Symphony has made big changes, moving from a stark middle school auditorium to the snazzy remodeled 1911-era downtown Empress Theater, and engaging Marc Taddei as its seventh conductor. April 15 was the season’s final concert of the 86th season. In a programmin...
Chamber
VIRTUOSO CELLO AND GUITAR TRANSCRIPTIONS AT RAC SEBASTOPOL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Listeners and yes even music critics usually prepare for a concert with research, checking recorded performances, looking at artist biographies and even reviewing sheet music. This was a difficult task for the April 14 Redwood Arts Council concert in Sebastopol’s Community Church, as the performers...
Chamber
TRIO NAVARRO'S POPULAR FARE IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Long time Classical Sonoma readers may recall many Trio Navarro concert reviews that lauded their virtuosity and interest in rarely played repertoire. The April 8 concert in Schroeder Hall before 85 chamber music fans featured sterling performances but had a mostly conservative menu of popular trio...
Recital
KENNER'S ALL POLISH RECITAL HAS PADEREWSKI RARITY
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, April 08, 2018
Kevin Kenner’s April 8 recital at Dominican University’s Angelico Hall had been advertised as all-Chopin, but he added a detour into another seminal Polish composer-pianist, Paderewski. Several of Mr. Kenner’s teachers were Poles, he speaks Polish, and he navigated at the piano both composers’ deman...
Symphony
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VOICE AT SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, April 08, 2018
In an April 8 Santa Rosa Symphony concert filled to the brim with instruments--electric violin, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, keyboard samplers, harps, piano and myriad drums, gongs and bells, to say nothing of winds, brass and strings--the instrument that came out on top was the hum...
Chamber
VOM FESTIVAL TRIO CHARMS WITH CHAMBER MIX, AND HUMMEL
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 31, 2018
At the core of the group of Valley of the Moon Music Festival (VOM) musicians is an ensemble of trios and duos, and as a trio March 31 Festival founders cellist Tanya Tomkins and pianist Eric Zivian joined British violinist Monica Huggett for a chamber music concert in the Green Music Center’s Schro...
Choral and Vocal
GOOD FRIDAY REQUIEM FILLS INCARNATION
by Terry McNeill
Friday, March 30, 2018
Maurice Duruflé’s short and intense Requiem has been heard in Santa Rosa’s Church of the Incarnation before, but the March 30 Good Friday performance was stripped down in the number of performers, combining Cantiamo Sonoma and the St. Cecilia Choir with musical underpinning from organist Robert Youn...
Symphony
HAMELIN'S HUSKY MOOD IN SCHROEDER RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 25, 2018
Convention in piano recitals has the artist coming on stage and playing. Canadian pianist Charles Richard-Hamelin walked on Schroeder Hall’s stage March 25 and didn’t play for six minutes, chatting with the audience. A risk for some artists. Then most programs include a contemporary or rarely play...
Recital
VIRTUOSIC VARIATIONS IN MORGAN'S SCHROEDER ORGAN RECITAL
by Paul Blanchard
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Organist Robert Huw Morgan’s artistry spun through the web of early variation form in a Mar. 18 recital on Schroeder Hall’s wonderful Brombaugh organ. Mr. Morgan, Stanford University’s resident organist, performs a wide range of repertoire, but as he said in comments to the audience, he loves when h...
CHAMBER REVIEW
Miró Quartet / Saturday, March 08, 2014
Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violin; John Largess, viola; Joshua Gindele, cello

The Miró String Quartet

A MUSICAL MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 08, 2014

For their March 8 concert in Occidental, the Miró Quartet played something old (Haydn), something new (Dutilleux), something borrowed (Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," based on his song of that name) and something blue (a colorful encore). Having fulfilled the terms of a proper wedding gown, they offered their listeners the sonic equivalent of marital bliss.

The listeners were many. The Occidental Center for the Arts was completely sold out, and a few extra chairs were brought in. The size of the audience bodes well for the venerable Redwood Arts Council, which was in dire financial straits last year but appears to have recovered thanks to an outpouring of community support. If the Council continues to mount concerts as stellar as this one, their future looks bright.

"Stellar" is just one of many adjectives inadequate to describe the musicality and accomplishment of the Miró. Formed in 1995, they have refined their unanimity of sound and expression through years of practice and extensive touring. Their members--four youngish men--appeared on stage in identical black suits with identical thin black ties and proceeded to play as if they were just one person with eight arms instead of two.

The "something old" opener was Haydn's familiar "Lark" quartet, Op. 64, No. 5. Like the bird of the title, first violinist Daniel Ching sang out from the opening bars, exhibiting a muscular tone and refined expressivity. The acoustics in the hall are excellent, and every instrument could be heard distinctly, from the full sonority of the cello to the perfectly blended middle instruments and the soaring first violin.

Every aspect of the Miró's sound was impeccable, including the wonderful swells, the precisely controlled tempi and the razor-sharp intonation. Mr. Ching in particular displayed an astounding fluidity of tone. Playing entire sections from memory, he seamlessly transitioned from the soloistic passages in the first movement, to the serene melody of the second, the infectious dance of the third and the furious perpetual motion of the last. Not to be outdone, his colleagues proved every bit his equal. It was a zesty performance, full of life.

For "something new," the Miró chose Dutilleux's "Ainsi la nuit" (Thus the night), composed in the 1970s. As noted in the introductory remarks by violist John Largess, Dutilleux was strongly influenced by the Impressionist composers and by Marcel Proust, whose concept of memory is reflected in the structure of "Ainsi la nuit." Central to that concept is the use of "parentheses" before each movement that offer a preview of events or a recollection of previous events.

The result of all those influences is a haunting seven-movement work that evokes the night amid a constant play of memory. The transitions between movements are subtle, and there's only one genuine break in the entire piece, between two movements called "Litanies." The musical elements are reminiscent not only of Debussy and Ravel, but also of Bartok, whose influence can be heard in the extensive use of harmonics, trills, plucking, tremolo and glissandi.

Among the many questions prompted by "Ainsi la nuit" is what constitutes a musical line. Much of the quartet consists of fragments passed from one instrument to the next, congealing briefly and then dissolving. The Miró displayed great sensitivity in connecting these disparate dots, moving forward through the work with assurance and a keen knowledge of its unusual structure. In the final "Temps suspendu" (Time suspended) movement, they held their concluding poses for a long time before signaling the end.

Thoughts of time and mortality also permeated the second half of the program, given over to Schubert's monumental "Death and the Maiden" quartet, whose central theme is borrowed from the composer's song of the same name. Before the performance, cellist Joshua Gindele explained that Schubert wrote the quartet with full knowledge of his impending death, and that the work is filled with contrasts between the calming voice of death and the desperate pleas of its pending victim, the maiden.

The Miró highlighted these contrasting moods throughout the work. Their playing in the first movement was fiery, with strong inner voices and an uncanny balance between all four parts. This balance became literal in the drone-like beginning of the second movement, where all four played the melody of "Death and the Maiden" essentially in unison before dispersing to enact its variations. They were so locked in to the performance that the sudden appearance of a loud siren from outside the hall left them unfazed.

"Intensity" was the operative word for the Miró's performance. Moving on from the angelic variations of the second movement, they gathered intensity in the brief Scherzo and then achieved maximum engagement in the concluding Presto. Their playing was heroic, with explosive but fully controlled power. They even smiled toward the end, where the constant shifts between minor and major suggest optimism even in the face of doom.

Called back to the stage repeatedly by a standing ovation, the Miró offered "something blue": the fragmentary Andante from Schubert's unfinished string quartet in C minor, D. 703. Just two and a half minutes long, the fragment begins with gorgeous writing for all four instruments and then trails off with a brief solo for the first violin. It leaves one begging for more. In the case of Schubert, that will never happen, but the Miró may someday oblige. Their return to Occidental would be more than welcome.