Concert review

Schubert Quartet D810 and Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues Op 87 and Piano Quintet
Joanna MacGregor with the Brodsky Quartet
Cabot Hall, Canary Wharf E 14, 14 October 1999

The Brodsky Quartet enjoys a popular residency at this fine hall in the midst of the regenerated Isle of Dogs. It can be reached very easily, being just above the Canary Wharf station of the driverless Docklands Light Railway, a trip on which is quite an adventure in itself. The hall is large and high, and a very good place to hear a string quartet. Sometimes the seating is informal, at tables, and you can take your drink inside. I found that the piano sounded better close to (for the Quintet) than nearer the back (for the Preludes and Fugues, Nos 1, 2 & 15).

There is sometimes a problem with ambient noise in the background in Cabot Hall, and I was assured that the air conditioning, which can be intrusive, was switched off, so maybe it was something to do with the lights this time? Certainly, in so huge a space, there is no risk of suffocation without air conditioning during a concert! (I am reminded of a hall in Venice where, in the hot summer, the air conditioning is meticulously turned on then off again during the gaps between concert items, well worth taking the trouble to ensure silent background.)

The quartet plays standing, which enhances communication. After a slightly shaky first movement, with imperfect intonation, they settled quickly into a fine performance of the Death & the Maiden quartet. The Shostakovich piano quintet after the interval received a spectacular, incandescent performance which was by turns moving and exhilarating. Joanna MacGregor does nothing by halves and pianist and strings rivalled each other in intensity and commitment. It was a privilege to be present for such music making.

The Shostakovich quintet was heard again locally soon afterwards, in the Blackheath pianoworks99 festival, with no less a pianist than the Russian Vladimir Ovchinikoff, a former Leeds prize-winner and the Vellinger String Quartet. Their account of it, however, bore no comparison with what we had heard at Canary Wharf, probably because of insufficient rehearsal time in a hectic schedule.

There was the incidental bonus of a fine sculpture exhibition, brought to London from Salisbury, displayed throughout the Canary Wharf area out of doors and in the foyers of the skyscraper No 1 Canada Square, which remained open after the concert, helping to make it a memorable evening. The Brodskys are returning to Cabot Hall next March, for an important Millennium series of three concerts of Beethoven's Op 18 quartets and six new commissioned works related to those quartets.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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