In addition to the regular evening concerts and the Cl@six concerts, a third string to the SCO's programme is its Chamber ensemble. Performing at 2.30 on a Sunday afternoon, this season's first programme proved that they are something of a treat. We were given Dvorak's string quintet in G and Brahms sextet in B flat.
Both might as well have been selected just for me as they have prominent cello parts, and I'm very fond of the instrument. In the Dvorak, as the programme note tells us, the double bass takes the bass line away from the cello allowing it greater freedom. And the cello here, Su-a Lee, is always a joy to hear. The SCO is extremely lucky in having not just one exceptional cellist but two (principle cello David Watkin will be playing later this month in Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, which promises to be rather special). The rest of the ensemble was excellent too.
Interestingly, perhaps because they come from an orchestra, the communication between the players was more subtle than in some ensembles I've seen, but must have been there as the playing was very tight. I recalled the Janacek quartet playing the piece at the 2005 Edinburgh festival, but on examining my programme it seems we actually got the quintet in E flat. I remember not being especially bowled over by it, and wondering if Dvorak's string quartet writing was to blame, this performance suggests otherwise.
The Brahms was interesting too. Again, the extra instruments freed the first cello, though this piece is for slightly odd forces: absent the double bass one might expect and instead pairs of violins, violas and cellos. Together they produced a wonderfully rich sound and some stunning playing, particularly the pizzicato at the close of the first movement or the beauty of the cello part in the slow movement.
A lovely concert, and a fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It left me with the sneaking suspicion that these may be the highlights of the season. What a pity, then, that the Queen's Hall wasn't a little fuller.