Michelle and I flew in for the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival this year and caught the Miro Quartet playing with Aloysia & Jon on Tue Aug 13. Our last-minute decision afforded stage seating, stage right behind the musicians. We really liked this. The experience and sound is different and quite wonderful, reminding me of my own weekly chamber music rehearsals years ago.
Miro opened with the Mozart quartet K 458 The Hunt. Their sound struck me like a velvet hammer: big, round, smooth, rich and fat yet detailed. A huge grin spread across my face and the back of my neck tingled. I especially noticed their dynamics, micro and macro, and their tight timing playing off each other handing the lead back & forth every few bars like a great jazz ensemble, yet with all the musical refinement that Mozart demands. The menuette bounced and the adagio soared, breaking tradition as they came in that order. The allegro set it on fire and summed it up.
Kevin Puts entered the stage and introduced his piece, Arcana for solo cello and string quartet. He described how watching the sun rise over a volcano on Maui inspired him to write this impressionistic piece. Julian Schwarz (son of Gerard Schwarz, prior conductor for Seattle Symphony, who was also visiting the OICMF this year) and Aloysia Friedmann joined Miro to play the lead cello and supporting violin, respectively.
The guest musicians left the stage and Miro played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. More specifically, the andante which is an absolute classic of the chamber music repertoire and structured as a theme and variations. It ranges widely from lyricism to flaming virtuosity giving each musician a showcase and the Miro quartet just nailed it. The piece had a few moments in the lyrical sections when Ching (lead violin) sounded just slightly off in timing or intonation, but it could have been my own ears. That’s part of the character and expressive joy of live music performance: every piece is unique rather than perfect in the robotically sterile way that recordings sometimes can be, and this enhances the experience. A robust standing ovation delayed the intermission.
Upon returning, Jon Kimura-Parker was scheduled to play a Clara Schumann piece, but instead played Schubert Impromptu Op. 90 # 3, one of my favorites of the solo piano repertoire. He played with a depth, delicacy and refined power that perfectly suits this piece. The performance reminded me of Radu Lupu’s style, but Jon made it his own. For me, this piece was the highlight of the concert in terms of emotional intimacy.
Last yet certainly not least, Miro joined Kimura-Parker on stage to perform the famous Brahms piano quintet in F minor Op. 34. A few years ago when Michelle and I last attended an OICMF concert they also played this piece, so I knew we were in for a treat. We were not disappointed. We were sitting just behind Kimura-Parker so close we could have reached out and touched him. I was reading his tattered and heavily annotated (in different colors!) sheet music as he played and his daughter turned pages for him. We could hear and feel the power and wonderful woody resonance of the Steinway Model D in the FFF sections. The strings were no less in the game as they brought the piece to its fiery and satisfying conclusion.