CMNZ: Brodsky Quartet

Brodsky Quartet

Rhythm and Texture

presented by Chamber Music New Zealand

Monday 20 May 2019, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington


Gina McCormack, Ian Belton : violin
Paul Cassidy : viola
Jacqueline Thomas : cello


Javier Alvarez:
 Metro Chabacano (1991)
George GershwinLullaby (1919)
Mario Lavista: Reflejos de la Noche (1984)
Osvaldo Golijov:  Tenebrae (2003)
—~~ Interval ~~—
Maurice Ravel: String Quartet in F Major (1903)


A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs


tldr – the short story:
The Ravel quartet was a stunning performance. The phrasing and technique was absolutely right for this impressionist masterwork.

But the first half ….. I struggled with it.


The long story:

As the sports commentators say: It was a game of two halves.

The Brodsky Quartet viola player, Paul Cassidy, admitted that the first half was a pre-cursor, a preparation for the ‘divine’ Ravel quartet in the second half. And the Ravel quartet was a stunning performance – so I will begin with that.


The programme title was Rhythm and Texture and the quartet relished in these elements in the magnificence of this impressionist masterwork. It was aided by the choreography of the group – the violins and viola stood up and the seated cello had a podium so she could be at eye-level with them, just like the New Zealand String Quartet. It meant a great deal of freedom – certainly for the viola. He ascended at tip-toes with his expressive solos – and the Ravel had many of them. Often his melody was above the second violin. He moved across to the violins when the treble instruments were in concert, or returned to the cello when the basses were in close harmony.

Ian Belton on second violin was quite dominant on his bold, low register solos – sometimes too much so. He had an amazing resonant pizzicato. Jacqueline Thomas on cello and Gina McCormack were superb: expressive, sensitive, controlled and middle-of-the-note intonation in all their registers. The phrasing and technique from Gina was outstanding and absolutely right for the Ravel. Often she sat back and let the others shine through in their melodies and counter-melodies – a refreshing and generous gesture that made an extraordinary rendition of this familiar quartet.

There were many highlights: the first violin and viola octaves, and first violin and cello double octaves in the first movement; the enthusiastic pizzicato in the second movement; the transmuted first-movement theme in the third movement plaintively played by the first violin and the ethereal coda; the energised, vibrant syncopations and unusual metric patterns in the last movement and the triumphal, euphoric finish to the work.


But the first half ….. I struggled with it.

Usually, the sum of an excellent ensemble is greater than the sum of the individual players efforts. That was true for the Ravel, but I didn’t get that in the first half at all. I thought that the individuals players remained individual, not contributing to a quartet ethos.

The choice of programme didn’t help. Javier Alvarez‘s relentless Metro Chabacano was enthusiastically played but some of the rhythms and accented syncopations were quite messy. Tenebrae by Osvaldo Golijov was moving and poignant, but it was badly formed and unbalanced.

Mario Lavistas Reflejos de la Noche was an exercise in limitations – only harmonics were played to create the soundscape of a mid-summer evening. I thought it was over-long and clearly an exercise. The Gershwin was light-weight compared to the other items. And after the Ravel, the Debussy encore was superfluous.

Maybe they should cast the net wider. For texture and rhythm: New Zealand composers Gillian Whitehead, Ross Harris, Salina Fisher, Leonie Holmes, Gareth Farr, John Psathas, Jack Body, Michael Norris, Alex Taylor, Claire Cowan, …….. they all have more interesting works that could contribute to the Rhythm and Texture theme.

See SOUNZ, The Centre for New Zealand Music for details!

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