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Petits-Fours: Favourite Encores
Brodsky Quartet; Bob Smissen (viola); Philip Edward Fisher (piano)
rec. September 2011, Potton Hall, Suffolk
Contents List at end of review
CHANDOS CHAN10708 [66:04]

Experience Classicsonline

For the gastronomically pedantic - I speak as a pork pie man myself, and therefore happily exempt from that category - a petit-four is a small confectionery which is enjoyed at the end of a meal, hence the title of this album, which consists of 21 ‘encore petits-fours’. Exhaustive online searching has revealed to me the further classificatory information that there are two kinds of petits-fours. There is the ‘petit-four sec’, such as a biscuit, and the ‘petit-four glacés’, such as an éclair. I think we can forget the whole sub-stratum of the ‘petit-four salé’, which is a bite-sized salted snack.
I suppose before we begin, and just to get this out of the way once and for all, what sort of dishes are we being served in this recital of encores; sec or glacé? Are they dry, and biscuity, rather tough but satisfying when crumbled; or are they all oozy, creamy and full fatty? Let’s be clear; are they austere or frivolous?
Before that, let’s just get a bit of context. The Brodsky Quartet was formed in 1972, its personnel being Michael and Jacqueline Thomas, Ian Belton and Alexander Robertson. There have been a number of changes since, but second violinist Belton and cellist Jacqueline Thomas remain. The first violin is now Daniel Rowland and the violist Paul Cassidy. The booklet photographs chart the sartorial, tonsorial and other developments of the group-amongst which, thankfully, we must note the abandonment of dishevelled and vast white ties, and indiscriminate facial topiary. The chic look now sported via their association with a leading designer is accompanied by their practice of standing up to play.
Which leads us to the programme. This celebratory disc presents a series of their favourite encores, the overwhelming majority of which are heard in premiere recordings. Admirers of the group may know that Elgar’s Chanson de Matin has been recorded before, but that’s the only such example. The arrangements are largely in the hands of Paul Cassidy but their ex-first violinist Andrew Haveron made fine contributions, Belton arranged Shostakovich’s Prelude and Jacqueline Thomas arranged the Waltz No.2. There are two guest performers: violist Robert Smissen and pianist Philip Edward Fisher.
There is a difference between appreciating a single encore in a concert, and listening to 21 on disc, though I daresay few would choose to do so, and doubtless the quartet wouldn’t expect it either of its listeners. As to the culinary question of sec or glacé, let me suggest a bit of both. They are certainly interesting examples of the genre though they I have to admit I find the general tone unevenly successful. The Sarasate Playera is avidly done, and Zapateado comes complete with battling fiddles and foot stamping. Falla’s Polo (a Haveron arrangement) sounds overwrought in this performance, though I appreciate that it is being explicitly contrasted with the companion Nana. There are three Elgar arrangements. Chanson de Matin has been recorded before, as noted, and it perhaps tends to over-emphasise the expressive cantilever of the music to its ultimate disadvantage. Pizzicati and counter-themes are finely distributed in La Capricieuse, a virtuoso favourite of yore, and there are some delightful examples of portamenti. Here, and elsewhere, arrangements often bring with them rich subtlety. I see also that the booklet note, written collectively by the quartet, specifically cites certain string players who have essayed a number of these works. One expects to find the names of Menuhin, Heifetz, Kreisler, Primrose and Casals, but it’s good to read the name of Josef Hassid, whose fame was so fleeting. I assume the Brodskys are referring to his HMVs where we can find five of the twenty-one they perform, albeit arranged; Elgar, two Sarasates, Dvořák, and Kreisler.
I suppose if the quartet had ended a concert with a piano quintet, Dvořák’s say, the strings and piano arrangement of his Humoresque (that one) might be appropriate but it’s something of a compromise piece, neither fish nor fowl, neither sec nor glacé. This is something I feel about the three Schumann pieces from Kinderszenen, similarly arranged for quartet and piano by Paul Cassidy. It’s rather a question, to my mind, of ‘what’s the point?’ It’s pleasant to hear Philip Edward Fisher join the quartet, but if I want to hear these pieces I’ll listen to a pianist unencumbered by four string players. Their addition seems to me, paradoxically, reductive. Ravel’s Blues movement from the Violin Sonata works rather better, especially the pizzicatos and throwaway ending. The Shostakovich pieces work far better than the Schumanns as well. Beau soir is an appropriate envoi.
The recording, undertaken at Potton Hall, is warm and sympathetic, and admirers of the group can enjoy the finely played if not always wholly convincing arrangements.
Jonathan Woolf  
Contents List 
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Danza Española No. 5: Playera Op. 23 No. 1 arr. Paul Cassidy [4:42]
Danza Española No. 6: Zapateado, Op. 23, No. 2 arr. Paul Cassidy [3:35]
Manuel de FALLA (1876-1946)
Nana (No. 5 from Siete canciones populares españolas) arr. Andrew Haveron [3:14]
Polo (No. 7 from Siete canciones populares españolas ) arr. Andrew Haveron [1:13]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Chanson de Nuit, Op. 15 No. 1 arr. Paul Cassidy [4:12]
Chanson de Matin, Op. 15 No. 2 arr. Paul Cassidy [3:12]
La Capricieuse, Op. 17 arr. Paul Cassidy [4:06]
Antonín DVO Ř ÁK (1841-1904)
Humoresque for Quartet and Piano arr. Paul Cassidy [3:20]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Three Pieces from Kinderszenen arr. for Quartet and Piano arr. Paul Cassidy: Von fremden Ländern und Menschen Op.15 No.1 [1:56]: Curiose Geschichte Op.15 No.2 [1:12]: Träumerei Op.15 No.7 [2:58]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Caprice Viennois, Op. 2 arr. Paul Cassidy for Quartet and Viola [4:15]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges, Op. 34 No. 2 arr. Paul Cassidy [3:36]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870-1847)
Triakontameron No. 11 'Alt Wien' arr. Paul Cassidy [2:41]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Violin Sonata in G major: 2. Blues; arr. Andrew Haveron [5:25]
Valses nobles et sentimentales No. 6 in C major arr. Paul Cassidy [0:44]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
The Love for Three Oranges: March arr. Andrew Haveron [1:39]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Duet for Two Violins and Piano arr. for Quartet by Ian Belton [2:44]
Waltz from Suite for Variety Orchestra [3:32]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Beau Soir arr. Paul Cassidy [2:56]
Brodsky Quartet; Bob Smissen (viola); Philip Edward Fisher (piano) 


































































































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