Schubert Ensemble

St John’s Kirk, Perth

Keith Bruce

four stars

THERE are surely few moments in the composer’s catalogue that sound more “Mozartian” than the conversation between piano and strings in the final movement of his Quartet No 2 of 1796. The ideal balance achieved by the experienced hands of the Schubert Ensemble in the fine acoustic of St John’s was instinctive, as the group begins the Scottish leg of its final tour after 35 years, as guests of Perth Chamber Music, which is marking its 70th anniversary.

While an “indie” rock group in the same situation would be playing its sole hit album, not only can you believe that this ensemble is genuinely saying goodbye, there is also not a note of Schubert in their recital. Instead we hear their latest (49th) commission, Zustande by Charlotte Bray, coincidentally just days before the BBC SSO opens a Hear and Now programme at Glasgow City Halls with the same composer. Inspired by the sound and shape of ice and glaciers in Greenland, its central section begins with a lot of interesting work for Jane Salmon’s cello, while the shorter outer movements are also instructive about the relationship between keyboard and strings; while the first seemed to show the comparative limitations of the piano in her programmatic work, the last resolved that problem in being less “sonic” and more full-bloodedly musical.

Completing the programme (barring an encore of a Strauss song) was a group favourite, according to pianist William Howard, in the Opus 30 Piano Quartet of Ernest Chausson, recently recorded on a disc of French music for Chandos. Here is a piece that is scrupulously democratic in the sharing of its riches amongst the players, and compelling, as Howard also observed, in a complex, elusive structure that resists obvious melodic resolution. Its second movement is labelled “Tres calme” but has some turbulence beneath the surface, and there was real listener satisfaction in the delayed gratification of the finale’s bold conclusion – a sensation that might be applied to all of this fond farewell.

Schubert Ensemble are also in Biggar, Milngavie, Stirling, Pollok House in Glasgow and Aberdeen (