Brodsky Quartet, Cadogan Hall, London
Friday 28 March 2008
The Brodsky Quartet has been around for some time, 30 years according to the programme book. But what one is not told is how many changes of personnel there have been while the group still performs under the same name. Certainly, something felt not right about the quartet's playing at this concert, as if the first violinist, Daniel Rowland, who joined the quartet in July 2007, was in another world from his colleagues.
On paper, the programme looked pleasing: a great early quartet of Beethoven; Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet, and Mendelssohn's staggeringly youthful octet. The Brodsky apparently led the vogue for three players standing, leaving the cellist sitting. At least, unlike the Emersons, the cellist's riser put her (Jacqueline Thomas) at eye-level with her colleagues, so that the effect of a lost child gazing round for some approval was mitigated, but as she was seated at the end rather than in the middle, her sound seemed to go nowhere. This might be the fault of the Cadogan Hall's acoustics, for what passes as a sound in rehearsal may evaporate when (partially) filled with punters. And she was not the only one: her colleagues, too, felt woefully underpowered in producing a startlingly unmodulated volume of sound.
Rowland, in Beethoven's Opus 18 No 1, set a tempo that was far too fast, so clarity of articulation was the first casualty – and arriving at the development section, the carriage almost came off the rails. Rowland tried hard to imbue the slow movement, Beethoven's miraculous Romeo and Juliet-inspired utterance, with the required intensity, but never seemed quite able to decide whether or when to use vibrato, an approach not echoed by his colleagues.
The last movement was also too fast, Rowland rushing and very unsteady rhythmically, ultimately leading to moments of dodgy ensemble and dodgy tuning.
Shostakovich's Eighth is one of the most harrowing pieces in the repertoire. Rowland's bleached, improvisatory approach was again not matched by his colleagues, but Thomas's high, wistful cello sound in the third section was most lovely. Overall, the intense anguish was missing.
The opening of the Mendelssohn Octet (with members of the Amsterdam Chamber Music Ensemble) was botched, Rowland not leading clearly. Too often he left his colleagues high and dry through his wilfully wayward playing.
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