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Review: Mimir Chamber Music Festival closes on a high note

Posted 7:26am on Saturday, Jul. 12, 2014

This summer’s Mimir Chamber Music Festival closed the same way it began— with interesting repertoire performed by outstanding artists.

It is hard to believe that this is an ad hoc group that assembles only in the summer. There is something uncanny about it.

The pieces chosen for Friday evening’s concert in TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall offered quite a contrast. Anton Webern’s early student composition, Langsamer Satz, was surprisingly Brahmsian for a composer whose paltry output would be the most severe of the all-atonal serialists. Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet in F sharp minor takes a lighter tone than his other three so-called “late” quartets. Antonin Dvorák’s A flat major string quartet is one of his loveliest, and most tightly constructed, creations.

Violist Kirsten Docter and cellist Brant Taylor joined violinists Frank Huang and Jun Iwasaki for the Webern and Dvoràk, with the two violinists switching seats. Violinist Curt Thompson, the festival’s artistic director, replaced Huang for the Shostakovich. But it mattered not at all who was sitting where. All three pieces received first-class performances.

Webern’s lush exploration of late romanticism is a piece that most people can actually enjoy rather than admire. It was especially gorgeous here as all four players used a sound as dark and rich as they could produce. They also clarified the four independent voices, which made the beauty of their confluence all the more striking.

Three of Shostakovich’s “late” quartets are full of death and dying; one has only slow movements. Not so here.

The players gave the first theme a jaunty lilt, and they brought out the composer’s inclusion of Katerina’s lovely aria from his ill-fated opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and reveled in the reference to a popular Italian song in the finale. They still furnished the rough-hewn explosive statements that are a hallmark of Shostakovich’s music and combined these approaches as they spiked a placid tonal passage with aggressive “snap” pizzicatos.

The Dvoràk was a revelation. With Huang’s sensitive performance in the so-called second violin chair, you could clearly hear how cleverly the composer divided up the two very equal parts. Huang was perfect as he brought out what was important, blended in the duets and subtly retreated back into the texture. Once noticed, you could only admire his superb musicianship and sure instincts (and the composer’s skill.)

Thompson promised us another Mimir Festival next summer, even though he now resides in Australia. It will start on July 6. Save the dates.

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