Beethoven Complete String Quartets – Opus 131
by the Miro Quartet
Based in Austin, Texas, the Miro Quartet have rightly received many great, even rave reviews over their 20 year musical performance career, as a quartet. This has certainly assured them a regular place in programmes of chamber music concerts around the world, including China, Japan, Canada, Korea, as well as the USA. They have also won many prestigious prizes for their performances of masterworks of the classical music repertoire over the years.
The Miro comprise of: Daniel Ching (violin); William Fedkenheuer (violin); John Largess (viola), and Joshua Gindele (cello). The players actually chose their name, by the influence of the spanish surrealist artist Joan Miro, one of the 20th centuries greatest creative thinkers, producing sublime paintings, sculptures and ceramics.
This recording is only part of a project to record the complete string quartets of master composer Ludwig van Beethoven. In this case we have the Miro’s interpretation of his No 14 (in C sharp minor) Opus 131 masterpiece. Yeah, it sounds like a pretty long and slightly off putting title I know doesn’t it? Well trust me, I’m a composer, it’s a really great treat for both your ears and heart! Please don’t worry either if you’re not used to the idea of a whole album which is just one piece of music, as it’s title suggests, there are actually 7 tracks in total, each one of different durations, as you’d expect, and also providing many contrasts of mood along the way – anger, delicate beauty, frustrations, etc, etc, all the parts of a day in a composers life. If you think of some of the classic ‘concept’ albums by rock musicians, such as ‘Dark Side of the Moon’; ‘OK Computer’; ‘Oxgene’, etc, this no different, as classical composers sometimes approach from the same musical angle, or same creative ideology, which is at play here with Beethoven. Using the Miro Qt. as a conduit, he delivers some of his most creative thoughts, at the height of his compositional powers – one masterpiece in seven movements. In fact, this was one of the composers favourite of his ‘late’ quartets, which was written in 1826. The composer Franz Schubert was indeed supposed to have remarked, after hearing a performance of this work “…..after this, what is left for us to write?”. The work was also praised a lot by another great composer, the romantic Robert Schumann “……on the boundary of all that has hitherto been attained by human art and imagination”. Grand praise indeed from one of the worlds most amazing composers and musical thinkers!
So, no pressure here then, on the Miro when they decided to record this masterwork of string quartet writing. Anyway, enough said, let’s get on with a few words about the actual CD now.
A slow. expressive movement to kick us off, so to speak, takes us into a beautiful soundworld only Beethoven could have written. A fugue like feel, as each player enters, one after another, making their statements, before a wonderful conversation takes place, in a very personal way. Such control of expression, with dynamic and melodic phrasing, shows us what fine players were listening to here.
A real ‘bouncy’ feel in this movement, although I do doubt that is the correct term used in music schools, but does suffice here i feel, and certainly suits my thoughts. The rhythmic exertion and fluidity is a delight. Again, the dynamics, and phrasing are truly superb.
3/ Allegro Moderato
A very short and somewhat to the point piece, simple, subtle, maybe, but is a nice lead in to the next movement.
From the short piece, to this long extended movement. This is actually a complete work in itself, as it is split into many varied sections, you could say movements within a movement, and lasting just over 14 minutes in duration. The longest track on the album, but about
the same length as some prog rock tracks, so don’t let that put you off at all, it is a truly sublime performance, with lots of contrasts, weaving in and out of your head, that you join the players thoughts and certainly feel you’re their with the composer.
Yep, you guessed by the title. This is both powerful, and aggressive – but in a good, musical way of course, but requires total focus and a lot of excellent musicianship to bring it off. I’m pleased to say the Miro prove themselves total masters of this quality.
After that, we come to a fairly short, reflective movement, as Beethoven wears both his heart, and his head on both sleeves – absolutely beautiful.
As you’d expect, to finish, we have a real fiery, and tour de force of a final movement. This brings both the whole work, and recording to a ‘cracking’ and exciting/explosive ending!
So, there you have a few of my thoughts on this recording. You bring together a masterwork, from one of the greatest musicians whoever lived, together with one of the finest string quartets, the result – musical perfection!!!
Get yourself a copy of this disc, as it stunning, and I have the pleasure to have played it on my radio show: ’Trust Me…..I’m A Composer!’ on Fab Radio International, a number of times, and will certainly continue to do so
Check the Miro out on their website too: miroquartet.com