Music review: Scottish Ensemble, Marryat Hall, Dundee

Scottish Ensemble: chamber music of the highest order (Picture: Hugh Carswell)
Scottish Ensemble: chamber music of the highest order (Picture: Hugh Carswell)
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THE Scottish Ensemble – or at least a crack eight-strong cadre of core players – stopped off at Dundee’s Marryat Hall for the final concert in a whistle-stop, six-day tour that had taken in Argyll, Mull and Inverness.

Scottish Ensemble, Marryat Hall, Dundee *****

They’d clearly enjoyed their brief jaunt across the Highlands and Islands, and their performances showed it: it’s hard to imagine a warmer, more generous approach to music making than what the players delivered, each of them emerging to demonstrate their talents while sparking off one another brilliantly. The result was chamber music of the highest order: intimate, considered, gloriously stimulating.

Guest leader Marianne Thorsen set the tone with her lithe, strongly defined playing that encouraged but never dictated. It proved the ideal combination for their opener, Mendelssohn’s feelgood Octet, written – miraculously – when the composer was just 16, and culminating in a finale of unrestrained joy. Beforehand, though, came some beautifully balanced orchestral richness in its opening movement, and some deliciously nervy mischievousness in its fairy-music scherzo.

The concert’s real revelation, however, came after the interval, with the otherworldly, slightly deranged sensuality of Enescu’s Octet. It is almost never performed, but the Scottish Ensemble players made a strong case for its weirdly twisting melodies and gorgeously decadent harmonies, even if it felt at times rather over-stuffed with invention. Violist Jane Atkins delivered a few particularly memorable, oily solos, but all eight players performed with dazzling conviction and searing intensity, pushing ever onwards towards the work’s breathless, ecstatic conclusion. Truly a performance to savour and to cherish.

DAVID KETTLE