The legendary Brodsky Quartet – truly one of the great string quartets of our time – is currently headed to Sydney for a mid-winter feast of Shostakovich in the Sydney Opera House Utzon Room in July (performing the marathon feat of all 15 of the Russian master’s thrillingly enigmatic quartets). By way of complete contrast this latest release from the Brits shows the group resolutely packing its buckets and spades and heading to the Mediterranean – with a side trip to Argentina – as if intent upon their summer hols.
The trip gets under way with Hugo Wolff’s Italian Serenade, which with its racing rhythms and strong melodies is like a train trip through the Tuscan countryside.
Puccini’s moving Crisantemi, on the other hand, is an elegiac piece, written in a single sweep over the course of one night, having heard of the death of King Umberto I’s brother, the Duke of Aosta. The opera composer was so pleased with his rare venture into the mysterious realm of chamber music that he recycled it in the tragic fourth act of Manon Lescaut.
Another great Italian opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi no less, also decided to have a crack at string quartet writing, believing that the Latin temperament lent itself to a viable variation on the north European-dominated genre. There are several recordings of this excellent work, but few will rival this superb account by the Brodskys.
A quick side trip to the Iberian penninsula an the piquant aromas of Spain pervade Joaquin Turina’s La oracion del torero – the composer’s ‘vision’ of a matador praying in the chapel before entering the bullring.
A complete change of mood and style comes with Astor Piazzolla’s drunken, lurching Four For Tango with its slurred notes and dissonances, before this marvelous disc is rounded off by brilliant arrangements of two of Nicolo Paganini’s 24 caprices. Daniel Rowland and his team of Ian Belton, violist Paul Cassidy and cellist Jacqueline Thomas mute up for the second caprice. This is Paganini with antimacassars, its beauty given an almost Edwardian salon feel, before the famous 24th caprice – seized upon by Rachmaninov, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt and countless others – ends on a light note with some atmospheric whistling.
All in all another stunning album from a group with its own unique sound forged out of years playing together and an impressive catalogue of close to 60 recordings.