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27.2.04

The Britten Are Coming! The Brodsky Quartet Does Washington — by Jens Laurson

This is a follow-up piece on the concert reviewed on February 23. This is the first double review in Ionarts history, although this was not the first concert that both Ionarts music critics have happened to attend.

The Brodsky Quartet is from Manchester, England. Their namesake, Adolf Brodsky, had been an important violinist and teacher in their native city, where they founded this group 32 years ago. Their unusual longevity has kept Ian Belton (second violin), Paul Cassidy (viola) and his cellist wife, Jacqueline Thomas together since their inception. Only recently did 20-something Andrew Haveron replace Jacqueline Thomas’ brother, Michael, as first violinist. The impression they make on stage is not necessarily one that I would expect from a string quartet. Andrew Haveron looks younger than his 27 or 28 years. With the goatee and well-rounded face, he looks like a college frat boy. Ian Belton, a small, sturdy man, resemble a Red-Meat cartoon character. His five-o’clock shadow looks like it was painted on. Paul Cassidy reminds of the teacher in South Park but more likely a classical musician. His wife, finally, looks perfectly charming and normal. She, too, is the member who is dressed least conspicuously. Paul Cassidy (who champions a zebra-like striped sports jacket on the Brodsky Quartet's Web site) wears a vest, as do his colleagues who man the violins. Over their unironed or unironable shirts we have matte/shiny patterns in black and aubergine and Cassidy's tank-gray vest with infusions of canary yellow and ultramarine. It resembles a flak jacket or live vest more than a part of someone’s closet.

The program started with Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet no. 1 in D Major, op. 25. His first of three, it is perhaps least like his output of that time (World War II) and somewhat belies works with which I am more familiar, like Peter Grimes, which had its inception at around the same time. The work opens with shimmering and light notes, accompanied by hardy plucking on the cello before that rough treatment turns into a more conventional pizzicato. The violins hover over the audience in slowly progressing patterns. Three against one. This set-up does not change until the first movement's Allegro vivo sets in. Much more conventional a string quartet format now, it has half the pulse of Bartók but twice the melody of Tippett.

Further down the movement, the shimmering, hovering strings plus accompanying cello-plucks (with big pauses) return in their high registers. The viola takes over some of the predominant parts, and the rhythm of the movement finally establishes itself halfway through. It finally gets a bit of the drive that I find so seductive in the 20th-century string quartet repertoire. The shimmering theme comes back once more and firmly establishes itself as the quartets calling card. (Feeble, frail, and flimsy: should that be "fistelty"?) Whistly and whimpering to cello sounds, it fades away. A few attacca notes and some whimsy make an end of it.

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