It's a meditation shot through with funereal allusions to Beethoven. Strauss wrote this late masterpiece for 23 solo strings. On Friday, at the final lunchtime concert this season, the RCS staged a performance that was unique in my experience: they played it as a string septet, with one player to a part.
I have no idea how common that reduction might be. I don't think I have heard it done before with just seven players: two violins, two violas, two cellos and a single double bass .
The performance was extraordinary in two ways. First, reducing the forces here had precisely the same effect as thinning the number of players in Schoenberg's great classic, Transfigured Night, from a full string orchestra to a sextet: it brought the music on to a different plane, drawing you right into the almost-shockingly spare, lean textures while, at the same time, racking up the intensity; the resultant effect of Strauss's seething contrapuntal textures in this version was searing.
And the other extraordinary feature was the staff-student constitution of the group, led by Russian violinist and International Fellow, Ilya Gringolts, with staff members Roland Roberts and Robert Irvine (viola and cello) undergraduates Eva-Csengele Demeter and Christine Anderson (violin and viola), post-graduates Duncan Strachan and Andres Kungla (cello and double bass) all playing with an integrity that was incendiary in its impact, and warming the emotions with Dvorak's Sextet before leading us implacably into the bleak abyss of Metamorphosen.