Brodsky encores CHAN20230

Brodsky Quartet
Golden Oldies – More Favourite Encores
with Laura van der Heijden (cello) & Julian Jacobson (piano)
rec. 2021/22, St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London
Première recordings
Chandos CHAN20230 [70]

This new release from Chandos presents twenty, short, encore pieces played by the Brodsky Quartet to celebrate their fifty years as professionals, having given more than 3000 concerts worldwide and recorded over seventy albums. Extraordinarily, two of the extant members have been with the quartet since its foundation: cellist Jacqueline Thomas and violinist Ian Belton. All the pieces bar the last work here are arrangements made by a member of the quartet; four require an additional cello, played by Laura van der Heijden, and Elgar’s soulful, sentimental Adieu is arranged for piano quintet, requiring the services of pianist Julian Jacobson. That arrangement pays tribute to former violinist Daniel Rowland, who left the quartet in 2018 and the Sabre Dance was arranged twenty years ago by another previous violinist, Andrew Haveron.

The quartet is probably best known for its championing of Shostakovich, Beethoven and Elgar, its innovative and progressive partnerships with artists across various genres, not just classical, such as Jacqui Dankworth, Björk, Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney, and for recording new works by modern and neglected composers. I feel something of a fraud reviewing this disc, as I am not especially well acquainted with the Brodskys’ discography, nor is their more adventurous repertoire so much to my taste, but the programme here is on the more conservative side, consisting of “lollipops”, as Beecham called them – of which only one, the last, written by the late Isidora Žebeljan, is a contemporary piece. It is nonetheless very varied, although there is a preponderance of wispy, charming French pieces – four by Debussy at his most melodic, three by Satie at his most gnomic and one each from Fauré, Saint-Saëns and Poulenc. Particularly toothsome is the arrangement for a string quintet of Le cygne (The Swan) for two cellos playing in harmonised unison such that it become Les cygnes – the swans. As cellist Jacqueline Thomas says in the notes, “I love the idea of two swans gliding along side by side on still waters…after all, swans mate for life and should never be alone!” Another highlight is the gratifyingly raw account of the Sabre Dance, with plenty of spiky, percussive spiccato and col legno effects. I particularly enjoy the sumptuous arrangement of Fauré’s Après un rêve. The Shostakovich excerpts from “Five pieces for Two Violins and Piano” typify the composer in atypically (if you see what I mean) light-hearted mode. In many ways, the most interesting number here is an abbreviated arrangement of the first movement of Beethoven’s so-called Moonlight Sonata, which presents a different way of couching its mesmeric effect; the same is true of the transposition of Satie’s keyboard pieces. The Scott Joplin item does not seem at all out of place in such company; only the frequently dissonant, grating Poulenc work and Debussy’s Prélude IX might seem rather “challenging” to be included in the bon-bons here. Pablo Casals’ haunting “birdsong” piece was new to me and a welcome surprise; nor was I familiar with the sparkling Bazzini work which calls for Paganini-style virtuosity from lead violinist Krysia Osostowicz; she displays astonishing facility. The final item is a spare, mournful threnody of a certain ascetic beauty, which to my ears, seems to hearken back to English viol music of the 16th and 17th century by such as Dowland.

The sound is impeccable. Anyone who wants both a souvenir of a group which has now become a “British Institution” – a term I am sure they would detest! – playing a selection of highly diverting, lighter works will delight in it.

Ralph Moore

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1. Debussy: Deuxième Arabesque
2. Bach, J S: Prelude X, BWV 855*
3. Fauré: Après un rêve, Op. 7: No. 1
4. Shostakovich: Elegy
5. Shostakovich: Polka
6. Debussy: Prélude VI*
7. Saint-Saëns: Les cygnes*
8. Khachaturian: Sabre Dance
9. Elgar: Adieu†
10. Debussy: Première Arabesque
11. Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2 “Moonlight”:
I. Adagio sostenuto
12. Satie: Gnossienne No. I
13. Satie: Gnossienne No. 2
14. Satie: Gnossienne No. 6
15. Joplin: Solace ‘A Mexican Serenade’
16. Poulenc: Prélude
17. Debussy: Prélude IX
18. Casals: El cant dels ocells (The Song of the Birds)*
19. Bazzini: La Ronde des lutins, Op. 25 (The Round Dance of the Elves)
20. Žebeljan: An Intimate Letter from the Judean Desert
Laura van der Heijden (cello II)*
Julian Jacobson (piano)†