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MUSIC REVIEW : Brodsky Quartet Offers Challenging Program

March 22, 1993|SUSAN BLISS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet is a painfully personal work, written in remembrance of all victims of fascism. Saturday night in Founders Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Brodsky Quartet added its own unique intensity to this Angst- ridden piece.

Having recorded all 15 Shostakovich quartets, the Brodsky--violinists Michael Thomas and Ian Belton, violist Paul Cassidy and cellist Jacqueline Thomas--are well associated with the composer's work. Their relentless seriousness and determination in this concert created an effective funereal monument--somber and dark in the outer movements, acerbic and ominous in the faster ones.

Phrasing, sound quality and dynamic nuance remained in impeccable agreement throughout: driving with clipped accents toward the climactic "Jewish" theme of the Allegro molto (a quote from the Second Piano Trio); digging into the macabre dance of the Allegretto with biting tone.

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Individual lines also emerged distinctly, whether equally balanced as in the closing fugue, or dominant as in the fourth-movement cello solo where Jacqueline Thomas (sister of the first violinist) offered the quoted passage from "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk" as solitary yearning against a threatening background.

Left unaltered, the same vehemence and penetrating tone that served so well during the Eighth Quartet could only hinder less morbidly fierce selections. Yet the group seemed unable to depart from a single style.

In the B-flat Quartet, Opus 18, No. 6 by Beethoven, the Adagio, ma non troppo , soared in an atmosphere of severe soul searching but the too-slow Allegretto, quasi allegro , stayed ploddingly earthbound, its grace sacrificed to inflexibility.

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Schumann's String Quartet in A, Opus 41, No. 3 suffered equally mixed results. Often angular and moving, it offered abundant intelligence, even sensuality. Still, moments of unabashed lushness and playfulness would not have diminished the outcome.

The Brodsky Quartet gave a single encore, the Hoedown from "Rodeo" in an arrangement by Michael Thomas that turned Copland's good-natured dance into a tour de force--brilliant, impressive and joyless.

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