Brodsky Quartet at Cadogan Hall

Chacony in G minor
At the Grave of Beethoven
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95
Quartettsatz in C minor, D703
String Quartet in F minor, Op.80

Brodsky Quartet [Daniel Rowland & Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola) & Jacqueline Thomas (cello)]

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 28 May, 2008
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Brodsky QuartetIf there was at all a morbid quality to this recital, it was more than offset by the thoughtful balance of the programme and the sheer vibrancy of playing that kept all but the most jaded of listeners alert.

Had it been conceived for string quartet rather than a consort of viols, Purcell’s Chacony would no doubt be lauded as the medium’s first masterpiece; even so, it makes a fine addition to the repertoire – its methodical and inevitable progress sounding wonderfully unforced when played with this degree of eloquence, with the degree of expressive vibrato perfectly judged.

Next a work by Karen Tanaka – the Tokyo-born, Paris-residing composer who has had surprisingly little exposure in the UK. One of six composers commissioned by the Brodsky Quartet in 1999 to write a piece to be played alongside Beethoven’s six Opus 18 String Quartets, she responded with At the Grave of Beethoven – a homage to the third (D major) of Beethoven’s sequence. A subdued first movement, albeit shot-through witha simmering anxiety, is followed by an intensely-wrought elegy that places elements of the Beethovenin a contemporary context – and which is not necessarily the worse for its sub-Brahmsian ambience.

Beethoven himself was represented by the most terse of all his quartets, sometimes known as the ‘Serioso’. The Brodsky might have placed even more emphasis on the almost ‘jump cut’ alternations in which the first movement abounds, while the second movement was fractionally too measured so that its ‘walking bass’ underpinning and fugal intricacies came close to de-spooling, but the scherzo had just the right vehemence and the finale pursued its swift course from tense expectancy, throughrestless uncertainty, to headlong resolve with manifest conviction: a Beethoven QED like no other.

Whether or not this work may have influenced the C minor Quartet that Schubert began late in 1820 is uncertain, not least because he abandoned the work with just the first movement completed. Yet this Quartettsatz is no less masterly for its isolation, and the Brodsky players did full justice to its charged yet always lucid interplay of fractious and consolatory themes. Nor did they overdo the sentiment of Puccini’s Crisantemi – a soulful tribute to a departed friend and his only contribution to the medium, which would have made an alluring slow movement to a full-length quartet had he wished it to be so.

Mendelssohn penned no less a work after the death of his sister, Fanny, and his own demise months later has undeniable portents in this F minor Quartet – the most intense and unequivocal of all his works. Such was the fervency of the Brodsky’s playing that spontaneous applause greeted the first movement, while the propulsive scherzo and elegiac Adagio were hardly less involving. An impassioned finale set the seal on a memorable performance – and, for an encore to end this engrossing recital, the ensemble added an idiomatic transcription of On Wings of Song to lighten the mood.

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