Nobody said anything about this at the concert, but the Miró Quartet is an ensemble in transition. Second violinist Tereza Stanislav is a recent replacement in the ensemble. But there were no signs of shakiness in the group’s playing Sunday afternoon, July 3, at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, New York.
In fact, the first major interpretive decision of the afternoon was one that made the music more difficult to execute. Unfortunately, it didn’t make sense to this listener. In Schubert’s “Quartettsatz,” that powerful orphan movement composed in 1820, the Miró Quartet’s performance made liberal use of rubato, slowing down subtly at the ends of phrases and at other moments. Rubato is usually an appropriate device for Schubert’s music, but not in his occasional moto perpetuo movements where the momentum should not be interrupted. (Another example is the finale of the Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 537.) Incidentally, the music was completely misidentified in the program notes, a rare failing for the usually excellent annotator Miriam Villchur Berg.
Composer Kevin Puts was on hand to introduce his Credo, composed for the Miró Quartet. Obviously the ensemble believes strongly in this work, which it has performed many times and recorded. Puts explained that he was asked to write an optimistic piece at a time (2005) when he was understandably feeling pessimistic about his country. He sought musical refuge in some images he found inspiring: the shop of a violin maker, the concept of America’s bridges and roads, a glimpse of a woman teaching her daughter to dance. The result is an unchallenging but attractive set of movements, basically neo-romantic in style but with some deviant moments to spice it up. The influences of Steve Reich’s “Different Trains” in the “Infrastructure” movement and of Barber’s Adagio in the Credo seemed obvious, but if you’re going to imitate you might as well choose such good models. The Mirós’ performance showed obvious dedication and the kind of experience with the music that leads to a real interpretation.
For this listener, the highlight of the concert was its final work, Beethoven’s Quartet in F, Op. 135. Not only was this the best music on the program, it was also the best performance. The interpretation was supported by thoroughly satisfactory execution, and it was some pretty brave playing. The opening movement’s strangeness was emphasized to the point of sounding downright impolite, which I think is some of the point of the music. The dance-like rhythms of the Vivace led to characterization so sharp it sounded brusque. The slow movement was indeed, as Beethoven asks, tranquil, leading to a finale which seemed played in a mood of mock seriousness, which I found completely appropriate.
This was a short program. Even with an encore (the finale of Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, Op. 33, No. 2), played much too fast, the musical content ran only about an hour. But it contained plenty of substance.
In the absence of Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt, the concert was introduced amusingly by composer and aspiring stand-up comedian George Tsontakis.
Leslie Gerber lives in Woodstock, New York. He has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.