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Henja Semmler and Christian Heubes, violin

Anna Puig Torné and Delphine Tissot, viola

Antoaneta Emanuilova, violoncello

Olivier Patey, clarinet

As closing acts go, it might be hard to top the Mahler Chamber Soloists, the chamber ensemble derived from the prestigious Mahler Chamber Orchestra (MCO). As their information brochure says, “the term ‘chamber’ refers less to the size of the ensemble than to the chamber music approach to orchestral playing shared by all MCO musicians”.

This approach was made amply manifest from the opening work: Antonin Dvořák’s Terzetto in C major op. 74 for two violins and viola (Semmler, Heubes and Tissot). This is a composition with a fair helping of local Bohemian colour, and we heard some gloriously expansive and passionate playing here. The first movement is gently lyrical, and the players seemed to revel in its subtleties, savouring every inflection and nuance. It segued seamlessly into the glowingly reflective Larghetto, which had the feel of an ardent love song. The third movement, Scherzo (a signature Dvořák furiant dance), a fiendish minefield of crossrhythms and accents, with a gentler central Trio was delivered with verve and flamboyance. The last movement of this Hausmusik work, a delightful Theme and variations brought the work to a bracing close.

Mozart’s String Quintet in G minor KV 516 is a “viola” quintet in that it is scored for string quartet and an extra viola. Typical of a lot of his G minor compositions, the mood is dark and melancholic. Here the MCO soloists really came into their own. This was playing of the greatest stylishness, keenly alert to the expressive power of even the smallest details. The opening Allegro pulsated with brooding energy, and when all instruments came together at the first transition, it was a veritable explosion of sound that seemed to come from much larger forces. The comfortable rapport between the players was visibly and aurally evident, as they negotiated the harmonic twists and chromatic turns in a cascade of ideas and developments arising from the simple ascending minor triad that began the work from Semmler’s violin. The musical tension persisted in the Menuetto, only diminishing a little in the trio section. The third movement (Adagio ma non troppo) on muted strings was particularly remarkable for its sense of timelessness, almost deliciously suspended in mid-air. The last movement (Adagio-Allegro) has been described by Mozart biographer Hermann Abert as reminiscent of Tamino and Pamina being put through “oppressive darkness before emerging into the light.” And when the work ended in a glorious major key, it seemed like the sun had suddenly appeared through a very gloomy overcast sky. In the hands of the MCO soloists, this was ‘the music of friends’ par excellence; quite simply the kind of playing that makes one grateful to be alive to hear it.


The last work on the programme was Brahms’ clarinet quintet in B minor, op. 115. It is an autumnal composition, apparently inspired by the prowess of clarinettist Richard Mühlfeld (whom Brahms nicknamed ‘Fräulein Klarinette’) and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful of all Brahms’ chamber pieces. Patey is a wonderfully sensitive player, and was well-supported by the string quartet in this contemplative work. We were drawn into Brahms’ unmistakable sound-world from the very opening melody in thirds from the violins, then the syncopated accompaniment from the lower strings, and when Patey’s clarinet ascended through this tonal texture with an impassioned response from the cello, it was the beginning of another glad-to-be-alive experience that stayed with us through this truly gorgeous work. The second movement was particularly memorable for its evocation of the cimbalom on muted strings, with the clarinet melody wafting above this sound-cloud. The work seemed to end on a note of poignancy, sadness even? When the MCO players emerged, spent, to applause, it was clear that they had given it their all.

The encore was a surprise: an absolutely charming arrangement of the traditional Konkani song “O Rosa” by our local talent Roque Lazarus and Rui Lobo, and played with real relish by all six. A rosier end to such a performance couldn’t have been more appropriate.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times on 25 January 2012)