Scottish Ensemble

Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE more experimental cross-genre programmes in the current season by the Scottish Ensemble undoubtedly attract audiences wider that those who customarily attend concerts of chamber music, but the group’s current concerts could hardly be more conventional and prove, in Perth certainly, that the combination of popular repertoire and respected musicians will be rewarded by a good house.

This string quartet may not be a permanent group, but the its members are among the finest musicians playing in Scotland – cellist Alison Lawrance, Jane Atkins on viola, and violinists Cheryl Crockett and Scottish Ensemble artistic director Jonathan Morton – and well-known to each other, and there was also fluent communication with guest clarinettist Matthew Hunt for a programme of two Quintets, the sole works for that line-up of instruments by Brahms and Mozart.

Both are well-loved and packed with seductive melodies. In the case of the Brahms, the Clarinet Quintet in B Minor is not only one of the key works of his later years, but also pivotal to the popular impression of the composer as an elderly, sad and grumpy tunesmith whose influence on composition – for the screen as much as the concert platform – continued for generations after his death.

This performance encouraged hearing with new ears, particularly to the dialogue between the clarinet and the similarly-registered viola. The ensemble balance in the second and third movements was quite special, with Morton choosing to sit back in the mix until the first violin’s moment in the spotlight in finale.

If Hunt was superb in the Brahms, he was absolutely outstanding in the Mozart, after choosing to single out for attention the younger ears in the audience in his introduction (and then giving them the nod when the movement he had drawn attention to was coming up).

As he also remarked, it is a rather jollier work, and not just by virtue of being in a “happier” key (A Major). His phrasing during the Adagio second movement and of the dance figure in the third was as beautiful as I have heard, and the languid lines exchanged by Atkins and Morton in the fourth were as original a delight.