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Review of The Divertimenti Ensemble – the final concert in the Inverness Chamber Music Springfest 22

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It was good to see an appropriately substantial audience in Inverness Town House for the conclusion of Inverness Chamber Music Springfest 22 to enjoy a long-anticipated concert by The Divertimenti Ensemble. This event, postponed due to Covid, featured the superb Schubert String Quintet D956 as well as a feast of other music for string quintet.

The Divertimenti Ensemble.
The Divertimenti Ensemble.

Schubert’s unusual choice of two cellos dictated the instrumentation of the generous first half, and we were treated to music by Boccherini, Sally Beamish and Niels Gade.

Boccherini’s charmingly galant idiom proved the perfect aperitif, and his op 28 no 4 Quintet, one of some 100 such pieces he composed, throws the spotlight firmly on his own instrument, the cello.

In the capable hands of Sebastian Comberti we were treated to the cello’s full dynamic range as well as what has to be the most catchy rondo melody ever, a scampering theme typical of this imaginatively inventive composer.

The Scottish composer Sally Beamish was a founder member of the ensemble, playing viola, so it was appropriate that she marked her reluctant departure from Scotland in 2018 with a five-movement work for the group and bearing it’s name, Divertimenti.

Beamish has a remarkable ability to digest, process and transform traditional Scottish music, and in Divertimenti she takes five distinct sections of the Burns song, Ae Fond Kiss into a Stramash, a duet, a lullaby, a waltz and a reel. The brevity of the inner movements and the diversity of their styles made full engagement difficult, but this proved much easier with the rumbustious outer movements.

Sadly a bout of Covid prevented the composer from introducing her music in person, but her excellent programme note proved a helpful stand-in.

The little-known two-movement Quintet by the 20-year-old Danish composer Niels Gade, dates from 1837 when the young composer was thoroughly in the shadow of his mentor Mendelssohn, and the music is both thoroughly Mendelssohnian, profoundly sombre, occasionally over-busy, but also promising the considerable talent the composer would demonstrate in later life.

The Schubert C major Quintet D 956 is a giant of the repertoire, profound, tragic, serene and dramatic in turns. Divertimenti’s reading of this masterpiece was a bit of a mixed bag.

The extreme demands of the piece laid bare an occasional failure in precision in rhythm and intonation which had been less evident in the first half. Whether due to enforced inactivity or the integration of new group members, a full sense of ensemble proved intermittent. However, at its best this performance was powerful and engaging, and the genius of the composer and the individual technical brilliance of these fine players ensured an enthusiastic reception from an appreciative audience. D James Ross

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