Rhythm and Texture
Maurice RAVEL
(1875 - 1937) String Quartet in F (1903) [30:21]
George GERSHWIN (1898 - 1937) Lullaby (1919) [9:54]
Maria LAVISTA (b.1943) Reflejos de la noche (String Quartet No.2) (1984) [10:35]
Javier ALVAREZ (b.1956) Metro Chabacano (1991) [6:29]
Osvaldo GOLIJOV (b.1960) Tenebrae (2003) [15:13]
Brodsky Quartet (Daniel Rowland, Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola), Jacqueline Thomas (cello))
rec. 10-12 September 2009, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD
ORCHID CLASSICS ORC1000012 [72:37]

An interesting and cleverly planned recital, mixing the known, and old, with the unknown, and new. Ravel's famous Quartet receives a solid performance from the Brodsky (website) - one which must have grown from many live performances over the years. The trouble is that it feels a bit too safe. True, there are moments where the players let go and create some excitement and momentum, but apart from the climax to the first movement and parts of the finale, it feels somewhat leaden-footed. Compared to the brilliant performance recorded by the Sacconi Quartet (on their own label - no catalogue number - available from their website, and coupled with Turina's Bullfighter's Prayer and Lalo's Quartet) this fails to get off the ground, which is a shame for there is some fine playing on offer.

Gershwin's Lullaby is just right, a performance of beautifully hushed calm and serenity. After it, Maria Lavista's Reflejos de la noche will come as a shock. The note in the booklet tells us of "…the exhausted lullaby singing parent finally escaping to the porch with a drink in the heat of the night as this work begins." The whole work is written for the strings to play nothing but harmonics and the note praises the composer for "…invoking images of insects and sounds of the night, [it] is all the more extraordinary given this self-imposed limitation." Unfortunately, this "self-imposed limitation" is also self-defeating for the continued sound of harmonics quickly wears on the ears and the mind loses interest and concentration lapses.

Alvarez's Metro Chabacano is the prize of this collection. It's a colourful and rhythmic piece, full of action and tunes. In recent years, Osvaldo Golijov has been touted around as one of the great white hopes of the future of contemporary music. I have never seen the reason for this, for I have found his music bland and without interest. Tenebrae doesn't raise my blood pressure either with excitement or admiration. It's a lament, which, according to the composer, "[lifts] some of the haunting melismas from Couperin's Troisième Leçon de Tenebrae." There's also a hint of John Adams in the mix and it's all served up in a rather dour, and somewhat unappetising, mélange.

Whilst I can understand the Brodsky Quartet wishing to bring new works to our attention, it's difficult to know exactly how to programme them. I am not sure that this is the right programme. The Lavista and Golijov pieces sit uncomfortably by the side of Ravel and Gershwin, some would say that this is proof of the failure of the composers to communicate and I am tempted to agree - the Alvarez piece is good enough to stand next to any quartet. The simple things which make music worthwhile - good scoring, satisfactory working out of material, a good plan of where the music is going to go - seem to be missing from these Lavista and Golijov works. Another problem, for me, is the notes, which try too hard on behalf of these two composers, to let us know just how clever they are in the creation of their works.

A good attempt to mix old and new, but I cannot imagine that there are many who would want, or indeed welcome, the Ravel and Gershwin in this coupling. The recording is first class and the notes, notwithstanding what I have written, are very good.

Bob Briggs

I cannot imagine that there are many who would want the Ravel and Gershwin in this coupling.