I have never listened to any kind of live music in so intimate a setting, let alone a chamber form whose sound palette is so ideally suited to the salon. Sitting directly behind violist Popoff, and within spitting distance of cellist Lee, the evening's repertoire provided the best kind of aural shock therapy: a gradual dark descent with Shostakovitch's String Quartet No. 1, followed by the pulsating, buzz saw awakening of R. Murray Schafer's String Quartet No. 1, and then finally the aggregate and richly atonal chromaticism of Bartok's String Quartet No. 1.
The six quartets composed by Bartok will in fact form the core of Microcosmos' repertoire as they present similar programs at equally intimate venues over the coming year. As last night's program notes assert, the group "takes advantage of the compactness and portability of the string quartet--four chairs and adequate light are all that is required."
Plus, of course, available ears. Do lend them yours.