Playing superbly on gut stringed period instruments, violinists Shaun Lee-Chen and Ben Dollman, with Monica O’Dea on viola and Jamie Hey on cello, form the Brandenburg Quartet.
They were all in very fine form when passionately performing for an enthusiastic audience in the Primrose Potter Salon of Melbourne Recital Centre on Sunday afternoon 7 April 2019.
This stylish quartet of colleagues, have played the music of friends together as members of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra (ABO) for a considerable time.
They now seek to expand our knowledge and experience of music, with a focus on works composed during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, in some cases, many rarely played.
The period of music they seek to excel within was composed during an age of reformers, revolutionaries and romantics c 1700 – 1830.
The Church, and Royal Patronage remained influential, although significant changes in the availability and the appreciation of choral and instrumental music for a wider audience had begun.
The growth of music societies outside their influence was already being established to cater for a burgeoning bourgeoise and the arrival of the symphony was on the horizon.
Making something sound simple when in fact, playing it is very hard, seems to be the mission of the Brandenburg Quartet, who are all exceptional musical magicians with a great deal of experience between them.
Their chosen period in history sported an engaging cast of characters, including composers Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), Hyacinthe Jadin (1776-1800), Gaetano Brunetti (1744-1798) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), whose works with their rich resonating sounds, flew around the acoustically wonderful architectural space, giving us a glimpse of the sublime.
Shaun Lee-Chen was on the top of his game, especially during the wondrous first movement of the String Quartet D-Dur Op.8-1 G.165 composed by the indomitable Boccherini in dashing style – exceptional playing by all – joyous, with intense moments.
It emboldened the Quartet, who revealed to the audience the marvelous interplay and seamless connection that exists between these four accomplished players, through the richly resonating sounds echoing around the salon.
This was a work Boccherini composed as the world of music was on the cusp of change.
He realised in order to carry the new emerging symphonic style forward, he had to make a compromise between old and new; from a sensitive lightness of touch, ornamentation and melody, to the drama and logic of a fully evolved style, which triumphed during the romantic movement, in a form of humanism that set its own limits.
Works by French composer Hyacinthe Jadin composed before he died so tragically aged only 24, are still emerging.
So, more pleasant surprises to look forward to ahead. Jadin came from a family of musicians all heavily involved at the court of the King and his String Quartet in E flat Major, Op.2 No.1, captivated.
Composed in 1795, it was meant to be played in such an intimate surrounding and it benefited from it. Fresh, original, assured and with a wondrous second movement.
It was full of changing colours and played with great warmth and a wondrous sense of joi de vivre.
After intermission, we returned for the more offbeat String Quartet in A Minor, Op.2, No. 4 by Spanish composer Gaetano Brunetti, a triumph of striking individuality, matched by a performance of striking merit.
Then came the greatest treat for me. The String Quartet in C minor, Op 18, No 4 by Beethoven.
Over my lifetime I have often detected a change, albeit ever so slight, in many a musician’s posture before beginning to play a work by this true master of his craft.
They push their chairs back ever so slightly, straighten their backs and their chests raise infinitesimally as well, as they set out to honour the genius who surmounted all obstacles on the way to not being able to hear the music that came from the very essence of his heart and soul, ever again.
Published in 1801, this extraordinary work is full of passion and the Brandenburg Quartet gave us a highly sophisticated performance. Their exceptional playing on a platform of sheer excellence was full of emotion and drama, while remaining sensitively nuanced – talk about ‘classic’.
What a way to end… on thunderous applause. Congratulations to all, after a very hard week they restored my soul.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle,, 2019