Bruce Hodges hears the performance of Haydn, Assad, Sorey, Kahane, Gubaidulina and Schumann at the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, on 21 November 2023

Brooklyn Rider. Photo: Marco Giannavola

Brooklyn Rider. Photo: Marco Giannavola

In his lively notes for this evening with Brooklyn Rider, titled ‘Sandbox of Invention’, violist Nicholas Cords described Haydn’s C major Quartet op.20 no.2, nicknamed ‘Sun’, as a ‘veritable playground of flattened hierarchy, mirroring the contemporaneous philosophical and political shifts under way during the Age of Enlightenment’. Given the reading with his colleagues – Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen (violins) and Michael Nicolas (cello) – the operative word was ‘playground’, with all four players relishing moments of sunny delight.

Gandelsman introduced three works from the group’s latest Brooklyn Rider Almanac and encouraged the audience to imagine a film synced to Clarice Assad’s Cinematheque, which turned out to be packed with unbridled energy, and worthy of Martin Scorsese or David Lynch. Then came Tyshawn Sorey’s (untitled), which bore a cinematic presence as well – less nervous and more contemplative, with spare, glassy, slowly shifting textures. The final part of the trio, American Studies by Gabriel Kahane, had a wiry, hymn-like aura sparked with folk fiddling. Aside from the instrumental expertise, what was evident during this concert was a love not only for Americana, but also for exploring the outer realms of contemporary composition.

The second half began with Gubaidulina’s Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H (2002), with its shimmering array of tremolos, glissandos and pitches at the upper end of the spectrum. And then with surprising insight, the foursome continued attacca into Schumann’s Quartet in A minor op.41 no.1, which somehow made the perfect ending to a tautly absorbing evening.