Home  Reviews  Articles  Calendar  Presenters  Add Event     
Choral and Vocal
SILVER ANNIVERSARY BACH RECITAL AT INCARNATION'S EVENSONG SERVICE
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Symphony
JOY, LOVELY DIVINE SPARK!
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 4, 2022
Other
DINOVA PIANISM CHARMS SATED AUDIENCE AT J-B MARIN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Symphony
SHOSTAKOVICH 5TH A TRIUMPH FOR SSU ORCHESTRA
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Choral and Vocal
SONOMA BACH'S WORLD IN SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Recital
ASSERTIVE PIANISM IN YAKUSHEV'S OCCIDENTAL RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Symphony
SPARKLING PONCHIELLI AND IMPOSING SCHUMAN AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 12, 2022
Chamber
CONTRASTS GALORE AT THE VIANO'S CONCERT AT THE 222
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 11, 2022
Symphony
SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY STOMPS ALONG TO MARSALIS VIOLIN CONCERTO
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 6, 2022
Choral and Vocal
TRAVELS WITH SEBASTIAN IN SONOMA BACH'S OPENER IN SCHROEDER
by Pamela Hicks Gailey
Saturday, October 29, 2022
CHAMBER REVIEW

The Miró String Quartet

A MUSICAL MARRIAGE MADE IN HEAVEN

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, March 8, 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.