Brodsky Quartet: Shostakovich String Quartet Cycle Review

Forum Theatre, Malvern – until 9th June 2024

Reviewed by Courie Amado Juneau


Malvern Concert Club very proudly presented the Brodsky Quartet performing all 15 of Shostakovich’s String Quartets. What an undertaking – and prospect!

The cycle was presented mostly chronologically and every quartet was a masterpiece, but several deserve special mention. The third – where Shostakovich found his stride and original voice – was one such. Every movement was played by the renowned Brodskys (Krysia Osostowicz and Ian Belton (violins), Paul Cassidy (viola) and Jacqueline Thomas (cello) with an understanding borne of a lifetime of playing this wonderful music. Their reading was precise, emotional, energetic and had a sumptuous range of dynamics to magically animate the music. The players truly inhabited the score and they were visibly moved, needing some reflective silence at the culmination. Coming just after the D-Day Commemorations, with wars in Ukraine and Palestine raging, what a sad indictment that this anti-war music is still so apt, so current, so now and so needed.

The 5th for its breadth, scope and ambition was another. Coupled with playing that was almost religious in its passionate fervor it was a rare joyful treat. The 8th was a further towering achievement that left me reeling. From 1960, it was the composer’s self penned epitaph. As it finished, the musicians seemed suspended as if weightless, so totally engrossed in the moment that they needed some time to re-acclimatize back into the room.

The real revelation, however, was the last day which (unbelievably) just got better and better! I had heard these works on CD but experiencing them in person was something else entirely. Especially when played this perfectly. The Brodskys probably won’t have realized but next week is “Loneliness Awareness Week” and the timing could not have been more perfect to give us Quartet No. 13. This was billed in the remarkably helpful, informative and entertaining programme notes (written by violist Cassidy) as, variously; “…a troubled soul cannot escape the walls of his tortured mind” and “…ends up alone”. Absolutely spot on. Words feel inadequate to explain fully the performances we witnessed and the emotions they unleashed. For me, this was the highlight of the entire series, closely followed by the last Quartet (no. 15) which was breathtaking throughout.

In The Brodsky’s hands the works positively glowed with vibrant delight! Shostakovich would have been rightly proud I’m sure, especially with readings of such utter conviction. I loved the introductions which gave us an insight into the works, the composer’s life, his methods and thought processes. They increased the enjoyment enormously whilst giving us the chance to get to know our performers. It takes a monumental level of stamina and concentration to play any 15 String Quartets in a marathon session over two and a half days but the Shostakovich cycle demands more than many others. What a phenomenal achievement to have gifted us the opportunity to hear this cycle in all it’s glory. And to have done it with such attention to detail, charisma and affection was an even more remarkable achievement. Thank you all concerned for giving us this life affirming musical experience that will live forever in my heart and memory. Absolutely flawless from first note to last!