Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Brodsky Quartet @ Cadogan Hall, London

28 November 2007

The Brodsky Quartet is at the forefront of the international chamber-music scene, and with music-making of this quality it’s not hard to see why.

This recital at the Cadogan Hall thrilled a loyal and enthusiastic audience in what transpired to be an inspired programme

The undoubted highlight of the evening was a no-holds barred performance of one of the most evocative works in the repertoire – Verklrte Nacht.

Arnold Schnberg was only twenty-five years old when he composed the work, which is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. Two lovers walk in the moonlight; she confesses that she is pregnant by another man, but so great is his love for her that he agrees to bring the child up as his own. In Schnberg’s mini tone poem, the two violins represent the voice of the woman, and the cellos that of the man. Like the poem, the work is divided into five sections – an introduction, depicting the couple’s hesitant steps through the moonlit wood, is followed by her confession. A brief interlude introduces the man’s reply. His declaration of selfless devotion is followed by a serene postlude, as they walk on through the ‘high bright night’.

It was to be another twenty years before Schnberg pioneered his twelve-note technique of composition so what we get here is lush, romantic chromaticism that is a natural extension of the harmonic language of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Schnberg stretches tonality to near-breaking point, but in doing so creates a work so abundant in riches that it never fails to make an emotional impact on the listener.

The quartet was joined by John Metcalfe (viola) and Sophie Harris (cello) and gave a performance that was quite simply mesmerising. One of the trademarks of this ensemble is that they play standing up (apart from the cellos) – maybe this helps with co-ordination, but all six players lived and breathed this work as if it were a living organism, easily coping with the complex writing that Schnberg puts their way. Although it seems invidious to single out specific members of this tightly-knit ensemble, special praise must go to Daniel Rowland’s impassioned violin playing and the sonorous yet ecstatic sounds that cellist Jacqueline Thomas produced. Sheer magic.

The recital kicked off with a work, Sentinels, by a composer that was new to me – Martin Butler. Commissioned by the Brighton Festival for the Brodsky Quartet, the work had its premiere just over ten years ago. The piece has a rhythmic pulse not dissimilar to The Rite of Spring with much angular writing for each instrument, but it ultimately failed to make much of an impression

Concluding with an introspective, yet heart-rending performance of Schubert’s final chamber work, his String Quintet in C, the Brodsky Quartet yet again impressed with the unanimity of their playing, especially in a gloriously executed Adagio, where time seemed to stand still. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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