The last concert of the Club’s 116th Season on 2 May was undeniably a very special occasion, celebrating not just the 100th anniversary of the premières of the three late chamber works of Elgar, but also the farewell performance of Daniel Rowland as leader of the modern Brodsky Quartet. These two facts must surely be the reason the concert was so inspired. Concert Club audiences know this music well as each work has been performed here a number of times, but what made this concert extra special was having all three performed on the same evening, thus revealing each work to be an individual creation with its own distinct character – which is astonishing, knowing they were composed simultaneously.
All this would be academic, were it not that the performances were of an exceptional standard. Opening with the String Quartet, with all but the cellist standing, the ensemble’s impeccable tonal blend was immediately apparent, plus a superfine dynamic range achieved from an explosive forte to the most refined and exquisite pianissimo. The Violin Sonata which followed was given an exemplary reading with Daniel’s body language revealing his total commitment, control, singing line and easy virtuosity in perfect tandem with the partnership of Martin Roscoe’s authoritative rendering of the piano’s equally important part.
With the Quartet now seated the Piano Quintet cast its spell over a rapt audience hanging on every bar of this extraordinary masterpiece. What was most apparent was the mastery each of these musicians had in common with their rich, almost orchestral sound when required, set against such exquisite pianissimi that one could scarcely breathe in case some wonderful point was missed. Being in such complete technical command of every aspect of the music it was fascinating to note even the decisions as when to use more, or less, or no vibrato was apparent; and when each member of the ensemble had a solo or highlighted passage it was clear they all shared the same artistry and refinement. There were so many heart-stopping moments – the descending passage for viola near the close of the Quintet’s slow movement a case in point. There was rapturous applause at the end and we were given a delightful encore in an arrangement by the ensemble’s violist, Paul Cassidy, of a late Elgar piano solo, the gently nostalgic Adieu. What could have been more apt! – and what a fitting climax to what had already been an outstanding season.
The icing on the cake for this splendid evening was the presence of the BBC to record it for broadcasting on Radio 3 on 7 May when the thousands who tuned in were able to experience the outstanding artistry of these five musicians and learn of Malvern Concert Club – a living part of Elgar’s legacy.
© 2019 Joseph Brand