Brentano String Quartet reviewed in the Manly Daily

Steve Moffatt, Manly Daily
24 May 2011

Nearly 20 years of working, rehearsing and playing together all go into forging a musical ensemble’s style and “voice”.

Many musicians describe it as being like a marriage, and in New York’s Brentano Quartet’s case it’s obvious that it’s a very successful and harmonious one.

Led by Mark Steinberg, the group exudes that understanding and empathy that only comes from “rubbing shoulders” – his words – for so long.

Since their formation at New York’s Juilliard School in 1992, there has been only one change of personnel – cellist Nina Maria Lee replaced Michael Kannen in 1998, joining second violin Serena Canin and violist Misha Amory.

Here on their third Musica Viva tour the Brentano showed why they have long been considered one of the leading quartets of their generation.

Their beautifully-nuanced ensemble work was immediately evident in the opening work, Mozart’s D minor K421, one of the six in the “Haydn” set.

Steinberg says his performance technique has been influenced by early music, and it is one of the trademarks of the Brentano that they seek to expand their repertoire backwards and forwards by playing pre-Baroque works – on this tour exquisite short works by William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons – as well as contemporary compositions.

In the 16th and 17th centuries it was common for a cultured gentleman to have a set of viols tucked away in a chest of drawers and out they would come after a relaxing dinner with his contemporaries.

That same musical companionship is an integral part of the string quartet, which has often been likened to a conversation between friends.

Australian musician Ian Munro, Musica Viva’s featured composer for 2011, wrote his first quartet a couple of years ago inspired by some woodcuts he saw in a gallery in his boyhood home town of Ballarat in Victoria.

The three movements, witty and tuneful with constantly shifting rhythms, made for a charming companion to the Mozart.

The friendly table talk reached its high point with Beethoven’s late quartets, and it was his last complete work, the Op 135, which closed this concert.

Sublime playing.


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