You wait go three months without an SCO concert, and suddenly you're at two in two days. I've said before, I'm sure, that the chamber ensemble concerts in their Sunday matinees, are one of the absolute highlights of the SCO season. Yesterday's programme was no exception.
They're also very good at timing them to make use of whatever soloist is in town (hey, here's a thought for a future season: get Rachel Barton Pine for a concert and then a chamber concert, please). This week it was the turn of horn player Radovan Vlatkovic, who'd played on Saturday. He led off the second half, accompanied by pianist Scott Mitchell, with a performance of Villanelle by Dukas, whose most famous composition is The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The programme informed us it was for horn and orchestra, so one can only assume we were hearing a piano reduction of some sort (I say assume because, rather frustratingly, shelling out £2 for the programme provided no elucidation on this point - it does say the composer called for both valve and natural horn techniques and that modern players sometimes ignore this, and while I'm no very good judge, Vlatkovic seemed to stick to a valve approach). Certainly not the greatest of works but definitely a fun one, and it did provide Vlatkovic an opportunity to show off, which he seized with aplomb.
This was followed by Dohnanyi's sextet for clarinet, horn, piano and string trio. This proved an interesting and satisfying blend of instruments, though I felt Vlatkovic's horn was a little too dominant at times (however, not knowing the work, this may be intentional). The ensemble was extremely tight and played beautifully. But they were not above a little fun, and they milked the false ending for all it was worth. From the wide grins on their faces they seemed to have enjoyed it as much as we had.
But the real highlight of the concert, and, indeed, one of my highlights of the 2008/9 season thus far, was the first half and Brahms' clarinet quintet. The SCO have a world class talent in Maximiliano Martin, and they're very good at showing him off in these programmes. That's not to belittle the rest of the quintet: violinists Zoe Beyers and Rosenna East, violist Brian Schiele and cellist Donald Gillan, who also played superbly, and formed a well balance ensemble. They played with beautiful lyricism, effortlessly weaving Brahms' rich textures together with Martin again and again gliding over the top. The only blemish was the person snoring behind me. There's just no helping some people.