Mirò Quartet overcomes lapses with compelling take on Beethoven’s “Razumovsky”

Sat Feb 06, 2016 at 1:26 pm
The Miró Quartet performed Beethoven's "Razumovsky" quartets Friday night at Alice Tully Hall.

The Miró Quartet performed Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” quartets Friday night at Alice Tully Hall.

For most of their season-long programming, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center calls on their roster of resident artists to create varied programs. For big-ticket series, though, such as their current tour through the complete Beethoven quartets, visiting celebrity quartets are the order of the day, the idea being that an ensemble that is used to rehearsing and performing as a unit can arrive at a more nuanced and polished performance thanks to their familiarity with each other.

So it was especially surprising to hear the Mirò Quartet, an established and widely respected ensemble, allow so many impurities in their playing as they did Friday evening. And these were basic difficulties that one doesn’t expect from full-time professional groups: their intonation was distractingly off, and not just with each other; each individual player exhibited his own accuracy problems. Each employed a vibrato of unique speed and width, as though the issue had not been discussed.

These shaky fundamentals often made it difficult to concentrate on what was otherwise some very good playing. Friday night’s program was the complete trio of the Op. 59 “Razumovsky” Quartets, about as sure a crowd-pleaser as any set in the chamber repertoire, and a formidable challenge of interpretation. The initial statement of the first quartet, given by cellist Joshua Gindele, was sublime, and the four charted a perfect trotting tempo in the opening Allegro thereafter.

One of the strengths of Mirò is the robustness of their sound, demonstrated in the rich texture of the second movement. The last movement of this first quartet did not lack for bright energy but was again marred by questionable tuning, which obscured the music’s colors when beaming clarity was called for.

The E-minor quartet was beautifully paced, and gave the ensemble a chance to show their darker hues. The Molto adagio was rapturous, crackling with warmth as the four gave lovely treatments of their interwoven lines. The Allegretto contrasted patches of roughness with the basic lyricism of the wandering melody. The players repeatedly showed that they weren’t afraid to flex a bit of muscle, playing the finale with intense brio.

Mirò’s issues with intonation were most problematic in the opening of the third quartet, which begins with a progression of contrasting chords. In spite of that flaw, though, Mirò presented a sound that was consistently fascinating, avoiding the lacquered sheen heard from many string quartets. The brusque mood of the Menuetto felt exactly right, even if it defied Beethoven’s “Grazioso” indication. They saved their best playing for the end, giving an amazingly vibrant account of finale, where they showed off a free, lively energy that was irresistible.

The audience on Friday clearly adored the performance, and gave Mirò a well-earned ovation.

Over the course of this six-concert series, CMS is presenting the quartets in strict chronological order, which seems a peculiar choice. For those on hand to hear the Razumovsky set, it was a rewarding evening, and no doubt the performances of the late quartets to come will be bracing experiences. One wonders, though, whether those listeners who turned out for the Op. 18 series left Alice Tully Hall feeling quite so fulfilled–why not instead give each audience a survey of the broad and challenging Beethovenian spectrum?

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center continues its Beethoven cycle 7:30 p.m. February 16 at Alice Tully Hall, when the Orion String Quartet performs the Op. 74, 95, and 127 quartets. chambermusicsociety.org.

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