The Brodsky Quartet has, for decades, been one of the most adventuresome chamber ensembles around, collaborating with artists as diverse as Elvis Costello and Bjork.
In Auckland, an appreciative audience enjoyed a cleverly devised programme based around fugue, that dauntingly complex musical form that many associate with Bach. Two movements from Bach's The Art of Fugue effortlessly released the musical soul from a score originally written as something of a cerebral challenge, strikingly so when the composer references the airy and elegant French style of his day.
After a dramatic account of a late Mozart Adagio and Fugue, pitting sonorous grandeur against fugal forcefulness, it was time for talk. The group's genial violist Paul Cassidy spoke of Auckland's changing skyline and how fugue had inspired some composers to create their finest work. An illustration of this came with a Mendelssohn fugue, one of his last compositions, which glowed with a sweet blend of serenity and intensity.
Beethoven's great Grosse Fuge must have been an inevitable inclusion in the selection, a sprawling display of ingenuity that had grown too big to fit within the quartet for which it had been intended.
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The Brodskys' new first violinist, Gina McCormack, took an impressive lead through pages of striving fury, edging from allegro to allegro molto; yet there was also a rare poetry to be heard in the immaculately modulated murmurings of a central section.
Bartok's First Quartet, a groundbreaking work from 1909, set off with deliciously entwined violin lines which, along with other pairings, infused the early movements with a lingering, almost late romantic nostalgia.
Shifting to Allegro vivace, we were transported to the wild, energetic Hungarian dances that would make the composer's name.
A delightful encore was as far from fugal intricacy as could be imagined. Cassidy's affectionate transcription of Mendelssohn's "On Wings of Song" floated a well-known tune through and over arpeggiated shimmer.
What: Brodsky Quartet
Where: Town Hall Concert Chamber
Reviewed by: William Dart