Have you been to Kings Place yet? London’s newest concert hall opened in 2008 and is rapidly building a reputation as a vibrant cultural centre with a phenomenal acoustic and a friendly smile. If you haven’t been yet, I urge you to select a good programme – this weekend’s Shostakovich cycle with the Brodsky Quartet was ideal – and head to the concert hall at King’s Cross.

The Brodsky Quartet were a fantastic choice to show off the hall; famous for their dynamic, engaging performance and collective ability to create the sort of pianissimo that makes the air stand still, the Quartet demonstrated the hall’s pin-sharp acoustics with consummate ease. Kings Place very often programmes full cycles and short residencies for composers and artists: I only heard the Shostakovich Quartets Seven to Nine, but cycles like this are remarkably illuminating should one be able to attend in full. The fifteen quartets mirror the highs and lows of life in Soviet Russia in the same way as the Symphonies; experiencing them as a cycle gives the listener an enormous insight into the life of the composer.

Although the Shostakovich quartets have formed a core part of the Brodskys’ repertoire since their formation in 1972, first violinist Daniel Rowland only joined the group in 2007. It was clear from the opening notes of the Seventh Quartet that the Brodskys’ principle of engaging the audience is very much part of Rowland’s musicianship too: he began the haunting opening notes almost before he had finished walking on stage, a piece of showmanship which heightened the insecurity of the music very effectively.

Less effective was the group dynamic: throughout the performance it was evident that the Quartet functions more as soloist and trio more than most – it is natural that the first violin will have moments in which the player is the dominant voice, but not to the extent heard last night. The rest of the quartet created a perfectly balanced, tranquil second movement and Rowland’s soloistic playing destroyed this atmosphere. I would also question whether it is necessary to provide a running commentary on the expression of every bar with overacted facial mime; dramatics aside, however, Rowland is a remarkable player and did create some moments of virtuosic excellence.

The Eighth Quartet, dedicated “to the Victims of Fascism and War”, is perhaps the most moving and desolate of all of the composer’s chamber music. It opens with a very slow fugal series of entries using the “DSCH” motif, a musical cryptogram which represents the composer’s name. Here we were given a chance to hear each member of the group perform individually and to witness their incredible ability to play with flawless ensemble without resorting to overt cues; the Brodsky Quartet is one of the most unanimously together groups performing today.

The final quartet of the evening, the Ninth, has moments of great drama and intensity, contrasted with mad moments of Polka music and an inexorable finale. With the exception of the third movement – the mad polka – the tempi were rather pedestrian, never allowing the tension to wind up fully in the way so characteristic of Shostakovich. The concert finished with two of the composer’s piano preludes, arranged by the Quartet’s violist, Paul Cassidy. These miniatures were perhaps the most successful part of the evening; this was primarily due to the fact that they perfectly matched the first violinist’s musical personality, leading to the sort of unified interpretation which had been missing throughout the concert.

The Musical Diaries of Shostakovich, at Kings PlaceHelen Fraser reviews the Brodsky Quartet playing Shostakovich's Seventh, Eighth and Ninth String Quartets.3