The Brodsky Quartet

John Joubert: String Quartets Nos. 1-3

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South African-born British composer John Joubert taught for many years at Birmingham University. He is not well known outside of Britain, but he has a core of admirers there among musicians as well as audiences. This release on the small British label Somm includes a performance of the String Quartet No. 2, Op. 91, that was already issued on an earlier Somm album marking the composer's 80th birthday; it is paired here with Joubert's other two quartets. The 85-year-old Joubert contributes his own notes to this project. His music on the evidence of these works is conservative but not academic, with a distinctive personality evident even in the Walton-influenced String Quartet No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 1, a student work from 1950. The second quartet was written in memory of Shostakovich, and indeed the Russian composer is probably the primary influence on Joubert's style: his music is tough, passionate, highly contrapuntal, and bounded by extended tonalities. That work also shows the influence of Beethoven, whose String Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135, is quoted in the opening movement. Shostakovich also makes an appeareance in the String Quartet No. 3, Op. 112, of 1987, a tightly constructed work that recalls Bartók in its combination of contrapuntal writing, seriousness, and classical form. The slow movements of the last two pieces are in the gloomy manner of Shostakovich's later ones, but somehow the music does not sound derivative; it breaks no new ground but it has the feel of commitment behind it. A major attraction is Somm's sound from London's St. Mary's Church, which gets incredible detail out of Jacqueline Thomas' cello. The players state their hope that the recording will help these works find a place in the repertory, and the goal seems achievable.

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