The Brodsky Quartet

New World Quartets

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There are enough new performances of American music by British and continental European groups to constitute a vogue, and this superb release by Britain's Brodsky Quartet makes a fine place to start with the trend in several respects. First there's a reading of the Dvorák String Quartet No. 12, Op. 96 ("American"), that could stand on its own as a reason for purchase. The Brodsky runs counter to type with this performance, which offers a relaxed, singing version of the music that accords well with the great performances of the Cello Concerto in B minor. Many quartets push the music and thus bring out its rhythmic structure, but that doesn't suffer in this version emphasizing the African-American-influenced melodic content that the composer himself pointed to in the work. Second is an intelligently designed program that mixes the familiar and the obscure-but-relevant. The String Quartet, Op. 11, of Barber, is the source of the Adagio for strings, one of the most famous of all compositions of the 20th century. But less well known are the Two Pieces for string quartet of Copland and the Lullaby, for string quartet, of George Gershwin, both student works that reflect their composers' personalities in delightful ways. The second half of the program as a whole shows how American composers in search of a national style generally turned not to Germany, where their forerunners had studied, or to Eastern Europe, but to France, a trend still in view as late as 1999 with the composition of Dave Brubeck's Regret, arranged here for string quartet by Brubeck himself just before his death. That piece and the quartet's own arrangement of Copland's "Hoe-Down" from the ballet Rodeo both receive their premieres here, and they make a terrific final act to a program that is engaging, instructive, and downright beautiful. Finally there's the ideal quartet sound from the Suffolk region's Potton Hall. Bravo.

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