Beethoven: Quartet No 11 in F Minor, Op. 95, (Serioso)
Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit
Schubert: Quartet in D Minor, D. 810 (Death and the Maiden)
After all the excitement of Powder Her Face in Brooklyn last Friday, an intimate evening of elevated chamber music - Beethoven, Dutilleux, Schubert - by one of today's premier string quartets in the lovely little Advent Lutheran Church right in my neighborhood sounded just what I needed. I actually had to do a double take after seeing the Miró Quartet's name on the Music Mondays series' schedule, having a hard time believing that the prestigious ensemble, which these days performs in world-famous concert halls like Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, Berlin Philharmonic's Kammermusiksaal and London's Wigmore Hall, would venture in our little neck of the woods, but here they were. And that was more than enough to make me forget my crazy day in the office (on a national holiday!), breathlessly squeeze into the packed church (The word had obviously gotten out and around) and finally be ready for whatever enchanting sounds may come my way.
Beethoven's "Serioso" quartet is only true to its title to some extent. In fact, the seriousness of the music often cannot quite stifle the vivacious exchanges and joyful outbursts taking place. It is a short piece, but there is a lot going on in it at all times, as if the composer got lost in the thrill of experimentation, having fun breaking new grounds under the cover of thoughtful music. Rapidly switching between the various moods and tempos, the four musicians of the Miró Quartet, who could have easily been mistaken for Wall Street players in their sharp suits, delivered an impeccable performance, confidently combining sleek sounds and warm playing.
Between the venerable German masters that were Beethoven and Schubert I was happily surprised to see French avant-garde composer Henri Dutilleux and his impressionist masterpiece Ainsi la nuit. Inspired by nighttime and all its mysteries, the seven movements organically flow together as if in a dream, their special sound effects sprinkling the surreal atmosphere. It is probably a fascinating - and difficult - work for musicians to study and play, but it is also a spell-binding journey for the audience, whether its members choose to pay attention to the different elements unexpectedly popping up or to just relax and let it wash over them. Yesterday, the Miró Quartet had their strings create unpredictable and always compelling moments of wonder, just like a night during which anything could happen.
And then we were back to more familiar ground with Schubert's memorable testament Death and the Maiden. Opening the first movement with all due gloom and terror, the four musicians kept up the vigorous pace and gripping tension until things calmed down a bit in the second movement. The Scherzo brought in some welcome lyricism, gorgeously highlighted by the glowing strings, but the insistent darkness never completely lifted and the piece eventually concluded in a death-defying Tarantella from hell. Maybe not the most cheerful way to end the evening, if it hadn't been for the sheer brilliance of the performance, which blazingly fired up everybody's heart and mind, at least until we got back to reality outside, on a cold Monday night in the dead of winter.