Miro Quartet Almost Makes It Home

Okay, I do have some quibbles with this release. But they’re more issues with me than anything with the album.

This is Miró Quartet’s second album with Pentatone. Their first release was Beethoven’s complete string quartets. And while this release might not be as ambitious, the playing is just as uncompromising. 

I like most of the music choices, and how they’re presented. And I like the way they’re all performed. The Miró Quartet is a world-class ensemble. They’re just as comfortable playing contemporary music as standard repertoire. 

The album is a contemplation of the concept of “home.”  

Kevin Puts has worked with the quartet before. His work “Home” articulates the feelings of losing a home. Specifically, the experience of war refugees. The work is unsettled and restless. Refugees are constantly on the run, and the music captures the feeling of forced flight. It’s a powerful composition, made more so by Miró’s performance. 

Also included is Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11. The middle movement, “Adagio” has taken on a life of its own. But here in its original context, it sounds intimate and personal. 

Caroline Shaw’s “Microfictions” grew from her experience during the COVID lockdown. Exploring Twitter, she discovered the Microfictions of T.R. Darling. Each of his daily posts was a piece of short fiction — contained within the character limit of a tweet. Shaw uses some of these to create her own musical “Microfictions.” Her six pieces are short and focused.

Yet like the poems they’re attached to, the pieces are also oblique and mysterious. What’s unsaid is almost more important than what’s said.

George Walker’s “Lyric for Strings,” like Barber’s “Adagio” began as a string quartet movement. He wrote it  it in tribute to his grandmother who was born enslaved. Miró only performs the string quartet version of the one movement. I wanted to hear the entire quartet. After all, that’s the context Walker conceived the movement to be heard. 

I recognize I’m of a minority to consider hearing all the movements of a work important. So if you’re like me, this is a minus. If you’re not, then no harm done.  

I really objected to the album’s finale, an arrangement of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow..” Yes, it is skillfully arranged by William Ryden. But to me, it still doesn’t quite rise to the level of the other works.  An album of insightful music-making ends with this corny cliched view of home. 

There’s a lot to like here. I will be playing his album again many times — just not the last track

Home: Miró Quartet
Music by Kevin Puts, George Walker, Caroline Shaw, Samuel Barber, and Harold Arlen
Pentatone PTC5187227

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