Accompanying and accompanied by the formidably refined artistry of the Miró Quartet (Daniel Ching, violin I; William Fedkenheuer, violin II; John Largess, viola; and Joshua Gindele, cello), A Far Cry presented “Loss and Resurrection” on Friday in Jordan Hall. Curated by A Far Cry’s own Jae Cosmos Lee, the show contrasted and wove together works resonating with the penitence, nostalgia, liberation, and spiritual values of both Passover and Good Friday: Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16, Op. 135 in F Major (arr. Alex Fortes), Kevin Puts’s Credo (arr. Jae Cosmos Lee), and R. Strauss’s Metamorphosen, study for 23 solo strings. Indeed, A Far Cry’s programmatic pairings, with their frequent philosophical and musically metaphysical leanings, continue to be a much-appreciated trademark of the “Crier” style.
Beethoven’s convivial and immensely contemplative quartet, with its famous last movement “Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß” (The Difficult Decision) and its enveloping “Es muss sein” motif, explores the spiritual dimensions of the composer’s last major work – still at odds with the ways of the world and life, in its fated atrophy towards personal chaos. A Far Cry’s arrangement by crier Alex Fortes, violin, proved effective in accompanying and amplifying the Miró Quartet, who led the overall shape of the interpretation.
The Late Period works of Beethoven enter completely uncharted territory, and in numerous musicological ways, open the gates to the 20th century, to Wagner, and modernity. The profundity necessary in conveying the fluidity of Beethoven’s musical thoughts was slightly lost in sheer mass of the ensemble, wonderful as was their playing. The lightly somber nature of the work (and perhaps the overall weight of the evening) seemed to overshadow the overarching interpretation, so much so that the joyous ebullience in the Haydnesque Allegretto first movement, and the stirring rhythmic energy of the scherzo Vivace second movement felt less emphatic and affective. The third movement, Lento assai, opens what seems to be a gateway to the musical future, with its opening simplicity and deeply sensitive yearnings (anticipating Mahler’s 6th movement, What Love Tells Me from his 3rd Symphony), juxtaposed the solo violin of the Miró’s Daniel Ching with accompaniment by basses, cellos, and violas. The fourth movement, reeling with its overt anguish, Grave ma non troppo tratto snapped aptly back into buoyant jubilation in its Allegro section.
Kevin Puts’s Credo for string quartet, through-composed with clearly defined sections, but no breaks, brought a shockingly fresh, improvisatory repose in this arrangement for strings. The trance-like vapors of the opening genesis-like harmonics, and the following elaboration in the section titled The Violin Guru of Katonah incorporated interjections from solo violin through muted ponticello passages excerpted from the Prelude of Bach’s E Major Partita and the first movement of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. The second section, Infrastructure, was a moto perpetuo imitating the unrelenting movement of modern society. The following third section, Intermezzo: Learning to Dance, allows the listener the luxury of meditative contemplation (perhaps through the pursuit of one’s hobby, an art form human in its nature), before being dragged back into the frenzied agitation of the fourth section; again, titled Infrastructure. AFC and the Miró landed Puts’s circular and metamorphic work in the form of the last hymn-like elaborated lament for solo violin, titled “Credo.” An incomplete plagal cadence: a resignation towards the world and its ways, aesthetically denied the final resolution. While the size of the ensemble and compositional rearrangement slightly hindered the Beethoven, the involvement of added forces, most notably bass, added thrilling dynamism and coloristic inflection to a modern masterwork already rife with scintillating nuance. Puts’s contemporary idiom allowed for both the Miró Quartet and A Far Cry to shine at their best, both in execution and expressivity.
The Miró Quartet joined the criers’ ranks for a homage for the potential of human society through culture in a deeply spiritual reading of Metamorphosen. In a work aching with the darkened hues of Germany’s societal and cultural destruction, at the hands of a country hijacked by barbarism, the mood was set by cellists Rafael Popper-Keizer and Joshua Gindele (of the Miró Quartet), with notable solos passed between violinist Jae Cosmos Lee and violist Sarah Darling. With rhythmic cells interwoven from the Marcia funebre of the “Eroica,” Strauss’s late-romantic doloroso style spills into the dissolution of meaning: the madness that was his historical moment and the literal death of Occidental culture, as it had been known, in the ruins of the Second World War.
Enormously challenging to performers, even with a conductor, this empathic study for solo strings requires strict attention to the individualized flowing lines that exemplify Strauss’s complex musicality and the transitional flux through thoroughly-conceived contrapuntal devices and gestural flexibility—all of which spoke to AFC’s strengths. A nostalgic memory from the darkness and a glory to the best that can be achieved by human society through culture, the middle section bridged the two outer darkened bounds through late-romantic bonheur. Apotheosized in a death-rattle-like jolt, the work descends back into darkness, cellos, basses, and violas in their lowest, most emotionally wrought register. Metamorphosen ends as it began, in desolation, but far more emphatic with descending chromatic inflections, as a withering plea.
In this conclusion, A Far Cry and the Miró accomplished an immense feat with grace and poignancy, requiring great technical and emotional control. Certain transitions and interpretative choices could have yielded even greater affect, yet the artistry of the interpretative conception was, without question, of the highest quality: counterpoint and solo lines from every individual voice spoke clearly.
In A Far Cry’s impactful “Loss and Resurrection,” Beethoven begged and answered the question “Muß es sein?” (Must it be?) – “Es muß sein!” (It must be!), which Puts’s Credo and Strauss’s Metamorphosen both further extrapolated through metamorphosis. While Puts’s work approached the process of metamorphosis through mostly positive contemplation and peace, juxtaposed by the incessant intrusion of societal needs, Strauss’s work viewed metamorphosis from a negative lens, darkness as surroundings, relegating the capacity of humanity to all but a memory to the past.
The idea of an artistic metamorphosis, as perhaps the highest form of aesthetic and philosophical accomplishment, reminds me of M.C. Escher’s own “Metamorphose II,” currently exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts. Art should express universal truths of the human psycho-social experience without attachment to explicit meanings and interpretations; art’s elasticity lies in its fluidity of meanings. A Far Cry and the Miró Quartet accomplished just that.