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GRAMOPHONE (07/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

We’re plunged into the cinematic smokiness of film noir for the opening of this album: Bach’s solo violin music, arranged by the Brodsky’s viola player Paul Cassidy for string quartet. The fabulous engineering from the team at Chandos heightens this highly saturated black-and-white contrast: there’s a tantalising emptiness surrounding the quartet, a sonic shadow of a room so dark one cannot see its walls. The opening Adagio of the Sonata in G minor, BWV1001, is treacly and sonorous. Yet gravitas becomes a caramel stuck to the pan: we lose the improvisatory spell of Bach’s rhythms, and flow slows to stagnancy. Strangely, the movements you would expect to be more amenable to string quartet arrangement, such as the fugues, are the least enjoyable. The A minor Fugue is messily played, and the static phrasing makes for awkward listening.

Yet there’s brilliance here too. Cassidy’s arrangements flourish when they play with timbre and texture. The heart-warmingly lovely pizzicato in the Andante of the Sonata in A minor, BWV1003, conjures the strumming of a late summer’s evening spent reminiscing with school-friends. It’s tender stuff: the melody is shared between the instruments in a kind of durchbrochene Arbeit. The Brodskys create an intimacy not merely conjured through sound colour but also as something that emerges between them as they relinquish melody – here you are, my dear – to another. And then there’s the sizzling interaction in the Presto finale of the Sonata in G minor, fascinating in its funky weirdness (though frustratingly this performance runs out of steam). Bach’s material for this movement is, in a sense, scant. Cassidy only has Bach’s articulation and the implied harmonic rhythm of this stream of semiquavers to work with. Yet he dreams up a fantastic dialogue between the quartet, edgy in syncopation and feisty in thrust. Perhaps, though, my favourite track is the album’s finale: the Brodsky Quartet bring us the Allegro assai from the Sonata in C major, BWV1005, that is, quite simply, fun. Shrieks of revelry and unison bariolage charge us through to the final double bar line as if on horseback. So, then, a mixed bag: lots to praise and lots to improve.

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