Classical review: Scottish Ensemble, Musselburgh

A slimmed-down Scottish Ensemble was yet beguiling. Picture: Contributed
A slimmed-down Scottish Ensemble was yet beguiling. Picture: Contributed
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IT WAS a slimmed-down Scottish Ensemble that took to the stage of Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre – just the five of them, for a passionate programme of string quintets by Mozart and Brahms.

Scottish Ensemble | Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh | Rating ****

Passionate was certainly the word – as they do in their fuller string orchestra incarnation, the five players found the character and drama in everything they played. It felt like far from easy listening; instead, it was a thoughtful, provocative, high-contrast performance, and strongly projected, too – sometimes brilliantly so, other times slightly less.

In their bold second movement of the Mozart G minor Quintet, for example, they contrasted silky phrasing with some intentionally harsh, raw sounds – dramatic, certainly, but also perhaps a bit over-emphatic. The opening of the Brahms G major Quintet, with cellist Alison Lawrance delivering a superbly bounding theme, was wonderfully forthright, but less vivid when it returned later on – although the fivesome rollicked through Brahms’s gypsy coda with marvellous abandon.

At times, however, they sounded, understandably, more like five individual players than a group with a convincing overall sound, especially when chasing each other in the Mozart Quintet’s imitative phrases. Leader Jonathan Morton, with his bright, vividly etched playing, sometimes stood out against the far mellower, smoother sounds of violists Catherine Marwood and Andrew Berridge, for instance.

In between the two big quintets, however, came the concert’s true highlight, the understated but tremendously effective Nocturne by Scottish composer Martin Suckling, piquant with spicy microtones, heavily perfumed, and given a spellbinding, assured performance, under appropriately dimmed lights, by Morton and Lawrance. Beguiling stuff.