Scottish Ensemble

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce, four stars

IF the RSNO’s performance of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante on Wednesday was a step off its beaten track, Thursday evening’s performance by the Scottish Ensemble – in the same space – took the same composer along the group’s own, singularly inventive, path.

“Mozart by Numbers” began with the solo violin of Daniel Pioro playing the searching chords and arpeggios of Caroline Shaw’s In manus tuas, inspired by Thomas Tallis, and proceeded to add musicians, interweaving contemporary works with compositions by Mozart through a sequence of duos, trios, quartets and larger ensembles, all the way to a performance of Symphony No29 in its entirety.

One of the highlights came early on, in leader Jonathan Morton’s duet with the viola of Jane Atkins, artfully followed by an equally lovely piece of “partnership” writing for Pioro and cellist Naomi Parvi in Sister by Edmund Finnis. An unspoken nod to work Wolfgang Amadeus wrote to play with his own sibling, Marianne, perhaps?

Sally Beamish’s trio fragment, The King’s Alchemist, sandwiched between single movements from a Mozart Divertimento and String Quartet No18, rather paled in the contemporary company too, with the latter being followed by Gyorgy Kurtag’s utterly compelling “Rappel des oiseaux” from his 6 Moments Musicaux. A huge technical challenge, the fluid use it makes of harmonics is breath-catching.

From then on it was Mozart all the way, violist Andrew Berridge crossing the platform to join the other quartet on stage for the closing movement of the String Quintet No4 to bring the first half to a close, before horns and oboes (mainly from the SCO) joined the party after the interval.

Clever stuff indeed, both thoughtful and thought-provoking, although not all the “extracts” worked equally well as stand-alones, and there might have been a little more intimacy in the configuration of the venue, although the sound was excellent. That was especially so as Morton directed a red-blooded foot-stomping account of the symphony.