incident light

Miró Quartet

Vox populi

January 31, 2013

OK, so I’m no Nate Silver, but I did accurately predict more than half the races in the Jan. 27 vote. Three out of five, to be precise.

The Miró Quartet, returning to town for the San Antonio Chamber Music Society concert series at Temple Beth-El, opened its program with an exquisitely refined account of Johannes Brahms’s Quartet in C Minor and then let the audience pick the works for the second half, dubbed “Quartet à la carte.”

The troupe, founded in 1995 at the Oberlin Conservatory, has been faculty string quartet in residence at the University of Texas at Austin since 2003. Its current members are violinists Daniel Ching and William Fedkenheuer, violist John Largess and cellist Joshua Gindele. All made superb impressions in their San Antonio concert, both as individuals and as a team.

The “Quartet à la carte” ballot presented five races, with three options for each. I figured the audience would choose the most conservative or familiar item in each race. The vote met my expectations in choosing Franz Schubert’s “Quartettsatz”; the menuetto from Mozart’s Quartet in E-flat, K. 428; and the finale from Antonin Dvorak’s “American” quartet. (Remember Dvorak had made several trips to Iowa, doubtless in order to plan his ground game for the caucuses.)

The voters fooled me, however, by choosing Giacomo Puccini’s lovely, elegiacal “Crisantemi” over Samuel Barber’s lovely, elegiacal adagio from the string quartet in B minor (the “Adagio for Strings”). I was also surprised by the choice for the closer. I’d expected Jacob Gade’s tango “Jalousie” to win, but the audience chose Ervin T. Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” in a delightful parody arrangement by Mr. Fedkenheuer. Then, by voice vote, the audience rejected “Jalousie” again in favor of Mr. Fedkenheuer’s arrangement of Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell.”

Democracy has its virtues, and its limitations. The concert would have been considerably more valuable if the Miró had stuffed the ballot box and played a movement from Kevin Puts’s “Credo,” given its premiere by this troupe in 2007. I’ve heard only a couple of excerpts from the piece on YouTube, but those fragments were fascinating -- dark, intense, disturbed, rhythmically propulsive. Other unjustly rejected candidates included Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Serenade” and a movement from Henri Dutilleux’s “Ainsi la nuit.”

The performances tended to gestural restraint, silken tone, impeccable intonation, ideal balances and total unity. The outer allegros of the Brahms quartet may have wanted a little more energy, but perfectly gauged, transparent chordings and beautifully sustained lyrical lines made the middle movements luminous. Puccini’s “Crisantemi” has seldom sounded so gorgeous, or so moving. The Schubert and Dvorak were on the cool side but with enough intensity and liveliness of lines to serve the music well.

Mike Greenberg