String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)
String Quartet No.2 in C, Op.36
Brodsky Quartet [Daniel Rowland & Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola) & Jacqueline Thomas (cello)]
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 10 June, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
The Brodsky Quartet, now in its forty-first year as an ensemble, began this BBC Lunchtime Concert performance of Beethoven’s Opus 95 in the only way possible, on the front foot. The playing was immaculate; the four musicians thinking as one, although the silences – so important in the opening theme – could have been a little longer to give the arresting phrase its maximum impact. There was however much to admire elsewhere, with an aria-like grace to the second movement, ushered in by Jacqueline Thomas’s cello. Throughout, the musicians caught Beethoven’s changes of mood, the alternations between graceful and grave, and the vigorous finale was worked through to a coda that scurried off brilliantly.
The performance of the Britten was stronger still, unstinting in its emotional intensity. It was necessarily weighted towards the finale, a ‘Chacony’ which is longer than the preceding two movements combined. This wartime work was premiered at Wigmore Hall as part of a Purcell 250th-anniversary concert, organised by Britten himself on 21 November 1945. The Brodsky musician found the finale’s wartime angst, while not forgetting the fluidity, part-writing and cadenzas that pay homage to Purcell. The first movement asked the necessary questions, the unusual sonorities of the unisons at the beginning completely instinctive and unified. By contrast the scherzo had a powerful kick, Daniel Rowland leading with forcefulness and flair. He was on occasion louder and more demonstrative than his colleagues, but the balance still felt right. As for the finale, as the ‘Chacony’ progressed and grew in influence the duets between Rowland and Ian Belton were particularly striking, as was the soft breath of accompaniment given to Thomas and her restatement of the theme. It was as if we had transfigured to a slow movement by Shostakovich. The closing sweeping chords were utterly convincing.