Published on Wednesday 5 September 2016
Written by Michael Tumelty
It is just three weeks since the Scottish Ensemble added a few key instruments to its core strings and effectively transformed the group into a mini chamber orchestra for its last Glasgow concert, playing a range of American music. The tiniest change of instrumentation can alter the entire nature, function and character of an ensemble. On Monday, in a spellbinding lunchtime concert in Perth, they went in the other direction: once again strings alone, but only six of them, yet again changing the character of the performances and the entire dynamic of the ensemble in string sextets by Brahms and Schoenberg.
This was real and revealing chamber music playing, both in the sunny radiance and warmth of Brahms’ First String Sextet, and in the darker, expressionistic colours the musicians brought from Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, whose emotional transformation through the second half of the piece shifted seamlessly from Romantic warmth to a weightless beauty and near-transcendence.
Yes, violinist Jonathan Morton was still leader and artistic director of the group. But he was one of six equals in a magical act of musical communion. The democratisation of responsibilities was so refined that the other players, Cheryl Crockett on second violin, with an awesome line-up of Jane Atkins and Andrew Berridge on violas, along with Alison Lawrance and Naomi Pavri on cellos, weaved in and out of contrapuntal, textural and harmonic focus with nothing distorted and no uneven-ness to middle-ground, foreground or background, while Jonathan Morton, with the utmost discretion, demonstrated that he understands how to achieve perspective. As musical democracy in action, it was deeply impressive. As top-flight chamber music playing, it was exquisite.