The Miró Quartet got the 2013 Maverick Concerts season off to a fine start Sunday afternoon at the Maverick Concerts Hall in Woodstock. The program began with an amazingly tight, radical-sounding performance of Beethoven’s Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, its “Serioso” nickname worth using because it was bestowed by the composer himself. The dynamics of this interpretation would probably have pleased Beethoven, with real shock value in the sforzandi. And I think the gruff playing of the third movement was right on the money. We may be getting used to the technical standards of contemporary string quartet playing, with a level of precision which would have been beyond belief a generation or two ago. But even given those expectations this performance was outstanding. Violist John Largess was a gratifyingly strong presence in the balance, as he was throughout the afternoon.
The Miró’s cellist Joshua Gindele told me in an interview that he believes Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E Flat, Op. 47, is played so much less often than Schumann’s Piano Quintet because string quartets don’t like to drop one of their players. Miró’s second violinist William Fedkenheuer got the nod to play in this performance. We were fortunate to get the third performance of this program by these musicians in a week, which led to even tighter ensemble than we might have expected. The playing was very well integrated, the piano always present but never dominating. The tempo for the first movement was rather conservative, taking Schumann’s “Allegro ma non troppo” literally, but it never dragged. The Scherzo was zippy and very tight, the “Andante cantabile” tender and sweet. In the finale, the playing was fast and vigorous, very well balanced, with big dynamics. I think the Piano Quintet is even better music than this piece, but in a performance like this the Piano Quartet really shines.
My lack of appreciation of most of Elgar’s music was reinforced despite a good performance of his Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84. Both Gindele and Melvin Chen told me they had played this work many times, and I have no doubt they did the music justice. But at 37 minutes (on Sunday), with its derivatively Brahmsian sound, the Elgar has too much repetition, loads of padding, and frequent transitions from one mood to another which don’t convince these ears. The thematic material generally sounds banal to me, and although the second movement opened with an attractive theme, it soon turned into snooze-inducing meandering. Out of curiosity, I did my best to keep my attention on this music, but it wasn’t easy and I occasionally failed, despite the fervent-sounding performance. I am well aware that better ears than mine respond eagerly to this composer, but I am not the audience for his music, not even when it’s this well played.