With an important Van Gogh exhibit set to open at the Phillips Collection next week, the gallery began its concert season on Sunday with a program by the Phillips Camerata of string quartets by Van Gogh’s contemporaries Debussy, Saint-Saens and Bizet to celebrate the occasion.
The Debussy String Quartet that led things off was the afternoon’s high point, in large measure because, when the chips are down, the Debussy is just a better piece of music than either the Bizet “L’Arlesienne Suite” No. 1 or the Saint-Saens E Minor String Quartet. The first violinist in this piece was Miranda Cuckson, a fiddler with a splendid sense of line and ensemble but whose sound had an edge to it that seemed a little bright in that context. Nevertheless this was an assured performance in which each instrument took ownership of the shape, weight and color of its individual lines and then managed to come together in an ensemble that seemed miraculously inevitable.