DIVERTIMENTI STRING SEXTET
THURSDAY 27th MARCH 2014
AN ARMY OF GENERALS
In the eighteenth century one particularly fine early orchestra was described as 'an army of generals', and indeed the same could be said of the chamber ensemble Divertimenti whose cast list reads like a who's who of English string music. One name with a particular resonance and a long association with Nairn was that of Rachel Isserlis – sister of the now legendary cellist Steven and a superb violinist in her own right, Rachel spent the interval reminiscing with Gordon Macintyre about historic performances for the Nairn Performing Arts Guild, and a particularly memorable Isserlis family concert at Clifton House in the 1980s.
Divertimenti sounded instantly at home in the opulent score of Richard Strauss' Sextet from Capriccio, a work dating from the golden twilight of the Four Last Songs and Metamorphosen, and like the latter work music in which each member of the ensemble is given considerable musical autonomy. For a group with the necessary depth of experience and skill, such a work holds few challenges, and Divertimenti's performance was like a love letter to this richly textured repertoire.
Just as the Strauss Sextet provides a perfect opening to the composer's Capriccio, so it raised a richly embroidered curtain on a concert of wonderful treats. The Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu has not yet achieved the household fame of his older compatriots Dvorak and Janacek, but the extraordinarily fruitful imagination on display in his String Sextet seems to demand attention. More akin to the nervous idiom of Janacek, with urgent almost manic repeated motifs and driving rhythms, Martinu's music is never relaxing but often engaging and occasionally visionary, and this Sextet proved quirky and substantial. Perhaps less substantial but hardly deserving of the dismissive approach of many musicians, the music of Boccherini, a delightful quintet gleaned from a number of his works for this genre ended the first half with charm and flair.
The second of Brahms' two youthful string sextets made up the second half of the concert. This is a work of profound content and exquisite craftsmanship, at the same time brimming with youthful passion and creativity. A twinkle came into the eyes of the players of Divertimenti as they embarked on this familiar masterpiece, real string players' music of the first order, and we were treated to a dazzling account of this work's innermost secrets. One of the chief delights of a string sextet is the presence of pairs of violins, violas and cellos, giving the overall texture a pleasing depth of sonority and permitting exchanges between the various pairs of instruments. Sitting in the middle of the front row, I found myself drawn into the stunning counterpoint, my head swinging back and fore as if I was at Centre Court in Wimbledon!
With six players on stage, this was an expensive concert to put on, and it is a testimony to Music Nairn that they are able to offer a deluxe musical experience of this kind to Nairn audiences – just as the superlative standard of playing by Divertimenti is a testimony to the healthy state of British string playing.
D James Ross