With their first piece the quartet did just that. The scherzo that Borodin wrote, incredibly, for a group of amateur string players in 1890s St Petersburg, was given a fizzing performance without sacrificing any of the lyricism of the viola melody in the trio section. This unfamiliar work – ‘extraordinary champagne music’ in violist Paul Cassidy’s words – made an entrancing start to the concert.
The performance of the Shostakovich second quartet that followed was every bit as exciting, indeed I sat mesmerised by the Brodskys’ playing. The first violin, Daniel Rowland, was completely on top of the virtuoso demands of the first two movements, matched fully by the other players. Indeed the restrained chords of his fellows only made the anguished lament of the second movement more effective. The spectral waltz of the third movement became almost a tarantella before the theme and variations of the fourth brought the quartet to an emphatic conclusion.
It is not possible for the Beethoven Op. 131 quartet to be an anticlimax and here it received a well-balanced and characterful performance. The playing was less dramatic perhaps but wonderfully integrated between the parts, with both the sadness of the first movement and the childish fun of the fifth given their due weight. The variety of tone was splendidly achieved with the rapt pianissimos particularly magical.
The Brodskys are well known for playing standing with the cello on a raised platform and this, with the partially-dimmed lighting, made a striking picture. But the quartet is not one for empty gestures and the players, while retaining their individuality, place all their artistry and showmanship at the service of the music. In the end this is what made this concert such a magnificent experience.