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Miró String Quartet delves into dramatic work

02.19.09
Shai Wosner
Denver Post

The conflict and emotional volatility of an illicit love affair are the subject of Leos Janácek's String Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters"), brilliantly executed by the Miró String Quartet Wednesday night.

Returning to Gates Concert Hall under the auspices of the Friends of Chamber Music, the stellar quartet - now in its 14th year - didn't waste any time delving deep into the Czech composer's dramatic work, expertly oscillating from anxious excitement to giddy anticipation to almost schmaltzy tenderness.

Composed shortly before Janácek's death, the work is an impulsive, autobiographical exploration of emotional extremes. In the second movement, the quartet - violinists Daniel Ching and Sandy Yamamoto, violist John Largess and Joshua Gindele on cello - surveyed its passionate exclamations of joy. The heroic, yet whimsical final movement with its Gypsy themes landed the gifted foursome in a frenetic dance in which they played off each other with equal and complementary fervor.

Preceding the quartet's rousing performance, the program opened with pianist Shai Wosner illuminating Janácek's more reserved, discreet side. Wosner's muted, tasteful reading of "In the Mist" revealed a floating sensation by closely minding the light, lilting rhythms throughout the four-part piano solo.

Playing from memory, Wosner beautifully shaped and balanced the simple, but evocative theme of the first piece with a fluid, perpetual motion accompaniment to create a sense of tension. Building on that momentum, the Israeli-born virtuoso probed the more intense, assertive sensibility of the second piece, then settled into the sweet, unadorned theme of the brief, but harmonically rich and varied third movement. Wosner's obvious enjoyment of the melodic, moody fourth piece rounded out his mature interpretation of the introspective set.

But it wasn't until Johannes Brahms' Piano Quintet, Op. 34 that Wosner, rejoined by the Miró quartet, really showed his chops. The often brash, no-holds-barred work is fertile ground from which these technically astounding, adrenalin-addicted musicians took flight. In an exhilarating succession of thunderbolts, vivid sunbursts and exquisite lyricism, the intuitive and ideally matched musicians delivered an artistically astute and aesthetically gratifying musical experience.