Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dumbarton Concerts premier "unfinished" Maican Quartet, play Haydn-like Beethoven, and offer quartet movements for audience vote

On Saturday April 10 the Miro Quartet performed the final concert for the 32nd season of Dumbarton concerts in Georgetown in Washington DC.  The Miro Quartet consists of Daniel Ching and Sandy Yamamoto, violin, John Largess, viola, and Joshua Gindele, violin.

The first half of the concert comprised the Beethoven String Quartet in C minor, Op 18 #4, and the Sting Quartet #4 of Tudor Domink Maican. The second half consisted of a program (“Quartet a la carte”) of five quartet movements selected from a ballot chosen by the audience. No, we didn’t vote on our cell phones with text messages like they do on American idol.

Let’s cover that second half first. The audience voted on a movement of Mendelssohn’s last G minor quartet, the slow movement from Debussy’s quartet (sounding a bit like Gershwin), a minuet from Mozart’s K499 quartet (as appearing in the movie “Victor Victoria”), the tarantella finale of Franz Schubert’s d minor “Death in the Maiden Quartet” and a Kern medley.

The Beethoven, while containing a declamatory motto that anticipates his Fifth Symphony, resembles very late Haydn, especially the lively finale, the most often quoted movement of the piece.

The Maican work actually was the premier of the second, third and fourth movements. Maican’s notes connect each movement to a different personal friend. The announcer at the beginning of the concert said that the Miro Quartet had said that the piece was more coherent without the first movement, and he drew comparison with the Mahler First where the Blumie movement was dropped (I think the symphony works better with the movement included) and Beethoven’s last quartet, where the Grosse Fugue was published as a separate opus and replaced with a livelier but less contrapuntal finale. (Ironically, another quartet at the Dumbarton had played the Beethoven a couple years ago with the Grosse Fugue as the finale.)

What was performed started with a lengthy and somewhat episodic (I guess variation form) and post-romantic Adagio, which evoked a mood that took my brain back to Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night”. I felt that at an minute the quartet would switch to that masterpiece (which was played at Dumbarton last year). It was lush, Viennese, retrospective, sensual, and seemed to oscillate between two tonal centers (they sounded like C and D to my ear). I wondered if I had heard the music on WETA on my car radio, because it already sounded familiar. The music resembled the background score (from many classical works) of Martin Scorsese’s film “Shutter Island” (with a little bit of “Ghostwriter” thrown in). There followed a pizzicato scherzo that, while rather Bartokian (maybe a touch of Dohanyi) that formally seemed inspired by a similar movement in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. The finale was a lively triumphant romp, following the same symphonic model. It ended on a dissonance (which I’ve noticed Maican liking to do; my ear wanted a conclusive fortissimo major chord). I can only project what the missing First Movement must be like: I would predict a lengthy and serious Moderato movement in extended Sonata form, with themes based on various intervals and clusters of sound, and an emotional release in the coda (more or less following the Tchaikovsky model). I could go to a piano an improvise something and probably get it close.

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