It’s surprising that concerts featuring a string quartet and a singer are not more common. The combination has considerable appeal, as evident again in Wednesday’s performance by the Miró Quartet and mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke at the Kennedy Center. Ginastera, Othmar Schoeck and Schoenberg have written for such an ensemble, but for this program Cooke sang works by Schubert, Hugo Wolf and Copland in arrangements for string quartet by the Miró Quartet’s violist, John Largess.
Cooke’s voice continues to grow in warmth and beauty, with plenty of force, a caressing way with words, expressive line and rich reediness especially in the lower register, as when she gave voice to Death in Schubert’s “Der Tod und das Mädchen.” Largess’s transcriptions were most effective when they restricted the musicians’ ability to overpower Cooke, as in Wolf’s gorgeous “Um Mitternacht.” Otherwise, they sometimes pushed her voice into unattractive sounds. There were occasional missteps, such as the scratchy harmonics in Schubert’s “Erlkönig,” which were intended to give extra menace to the voice of the evil kidnapping fairy, but in effect just sounded off-key.
On its own in Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” quartet, the Miró was less effective, giving the slow movement a more cursory feel and making the scherzo overly heavy, but pulling out all the stops for an impossibly fast finale. First violinist Daniel Ching was driven to the brink by his colleagues when he was high on the E string, the sound not always clear and true. The group sounded more cohesive in a tender reading of the “Rondino” from Copland’s “Two Pieces for String Quartet,” and a closing set from Copland’s “Old American Songs,” with Cooke letting down her hair a bit, was unabashed fun.
Downey is a freelance writer.