Miró Quartet and Shai Wosner open Winter Chamber Music Festival in style

Sun Jan 12, 2014 at 12:27 pm

By Dennis Polkow

The Miró Quartet and pianist Shai Wosner opened the Winter Chamber Music Festival Friday night in Evanston.
The Miró Quartet and pianist Shai Wosner opened the Winter Chamber Music Festival Friday night in Evanston.

The weather outside was frightful, though thankfully the music was delightful at Friday night’s opening of the annual Winter Chamber Music Festival at Northwestern University.

It says a lot about the devoted audience to the festival, now in its 18th season, that despite having to endure fog, icy rain, flooded and closed roads, never-ending university construction and a walk from the parking lot that included slippery stairs, mystery ice rinks, mud sinkholes and canals, that on opening Pick-Stager Hall was three-quarters full.

The program was held back for a time to allow for chamber music lovers to traverse the obstacle course. This listener made it in to hear the final movement Allegretto of the three-movement opener, the Mozart Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major, K. 493. Pity that, for judging from the finale, the work was performed with sprit and charm by the Miró Quartet minus one with guest pianist Shai Wosner.

The complete Miró — violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess and cellist Joshua Gindale — returned for a traversal of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 6 in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6, the penultimate work of the set, but published as the last of the set because of its forward-looking finale.

Beethoven came relatively late to the string quartet form, preferring genres early on that would not invite such obvious comparisons to Haydn and Mozart. The Miró played up the classical and conservative elements of the opening movements, playing briskly with retrained yet expressive vibrato. The tempo fluctuations were masterfully handled.

The Adagio was surprisingly fast which gave it an energetic sense of momentum that was quite persuasive which, after a light and bouncy Scherzo, served as an effective contrast with the much slower, contemplative Adagio that opened up the La Malinconia finale.

Those who think of Brahms primarily as a musical conservative would do well to engulf themselves in his Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34, one of his most daring and adventurous works.

Remarkably, the piece began life as a string quintet before being recast as a two-piano sonata and finally, a piano quintet, taking in the most effective qualities of both genres and versions.

Wosner and the Miró gave a compelling performance. The tone and approach of the string playing could not have more different for the Brahms than it had been with the Mozart and Beethoven, although the usual overplaying that often accompanies the piece were, blessedly, nowhere to be found.

At times, the piano was too dominant in the texture but the interpretation nonetheless by and large remained in simpatico. The Andante had a breezy, almost dreamlike quality to it, and the Scherzo was deliciously ferocious. The final movement began in a meditative fashion before Beethovenian playfulness emerged in its fugue and rousing finale.

The audience was deservedly enthusiastic at the end of this remarkable performance, so much so, that one wondered what encore could possibly follow.

The Scherzo from Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81, was the ideal crown to an extraordinary evening, offering further aesthetic sustenance before the dreaded return to battling the outside elements.

The Winter Chamber Music Festival runs through January 26 and continues 3 p.m. Sunday with the Parker Quartet performing works of Haydn, Beethoven and Thomas Adès. pickstaiger.org/events/winter-chamber-music-festival     

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