Music / Reviews

Review: Brodsky Quartet, St George’s

By martin siddorn, Monday Sep 16, 2019

The Brodsky Quartet often refer to St George’s as their second home. They have been regular and much loved visitors here over the past twenty years or so. I first came across their path as they performed two remarkable concerts in the 1990s with Elvis Costello and Bjork. These shows opened my ears, bought up on the clatter and clang of rock and soul music, to the sonic joys and wonderful intimacy of the quartet repertoire.

Since then, the Brodskys have guided audiences through the existential psychodramas of the late Beethoven Quartets, the war-torn angst of their Shostakovich cycle, the odd tango with Piazzolla, Bach Fugues and so much more.

Tonight there is a new face in their ranks. First violin Daniel Rowland has left after twelve years for pastures new. Gina McCormack has big shoes to fill but it was immediately apparent that she fitted in perfectly with the bold, adventurous playing of this group. They have always sought out creative collaborations and tonight they are joined by former BBC Young Musician of the Year Laura van der Heijden as additional cello for the final two pieces of the evening.

We start with Borodin’s String Quartet No 2 in D. The opening theme is cello led and gives way to some delightful interplay with the violins. It’s a sunny quartet with a taste of spring in it. A joyful folk dance with a flavour of Russian drama. The Brodskys play it with their usual powerful theatricality, their lightness of touch perfectly exploring the delicate and playful tone.

Unusually for a chamber group the violin and viola players stand up to perform and this seems to add to the intimacy and drama of the performance. This draws us in particularly during the slower third movement. Again we are led by Jacqueline Thomas’ cello into some achingly beautiful melodies which are met with a more angular response from the full quartet.

Our middle piece tonight is Boccherini’s String Quartet No 6. We are taken to a Madrid summer’s street scene and led by the quartet through a sprightly introduction. We open with the two cellos on one side of the stage in playful opposition to the violin and viola. The first violin joins from off stage for a theatrical entrance.

There is more fun from the plucked cellos and witty responses from the higher strings. We conclude with viola player Paul Cassidy offering a whistling accompaniment to the melody, chiming a metallic bowl and violently sawing his instrument as he moves around the stage. The audience love it and are already stamping and whooping at the interval.

Our main business this evening is Schubert’s String Quintet, one of the greatest pieces in the chamber repertoire. It is a profound work, unarguably a summit of Western art. Written as the composer faced an early death (he would be gone within weeks of its completion), there is deep sadness here but seemingly not despair – and some touches of serenity.

The two closing movements have contrasting boisterousness set against more melancholy. The cohesion of the playing leads us to the dramatic dissonance of the ending. The viola is the lynchpin here as the two cellos deliver wonderful bass textures. Technical perfection married to real passion.

The attentive St George’s audience greeted the Brodsky Quartet warmly. Another contemporary presentation from the seemingly endless wonders of this repertoire with the boundary-pushing, forward-looking and musically adventurous Brodsky Quartet and their guest. I’ll be back next year for more of the same. I strongly recommend you join me.

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