Scottish Ensemble

Merchants House, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

THERE was a queue down the stairs for seats at Wednesday lunchtime's recital by a quintet from Jonathan Morton's Scottish Ensemble, and little wonder. For all that the group is dedicated to "reinventing the string orchestra", here just five of the players were on a short journey through what might be seen as core repertoire, but in fact an opportunity to hear some unfamiliar melodies by Mozart and Brahms. Yet the only obstacle to their performance is the addition of a second viola (Andrew Berridge) to a string quartet (Morton, Cheryl Crockett, Catherine Marwood and Alison Lawrance).

If Mozart's G Minor quintet is an elegy for his father Leopold, in failing health during its composition, it is far from miserable. Marwood often took the lead voice from Morton, with all the chord colour combinations of a quintet explored in the first movement and a crucial difference in tone between her viola and that of Berridge, whose sound was darker and nearer that of the cello. In a work where rests are often as crucial as the notes, the central movements boast lovely tunes and the finale is Mozart at his most playful and lively.

There are fragments of Brahms' unwritten fifth symphony in the big bold opening of his Opus 111 in G Major, composed a century later and which he intended as his swansong, although in fact he composed loads of keyboard music, some songs and his masterpieces for clarinet afterwards. More complex in its interweaving lines,, the leader had to wait until the Minuet for his big tune, which sits between a gorgeous Adagio and a last movement that ends on a very jolly dancing note.