The Lucerne Orchestra is in town, with the main purpose of their visit a performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony under their conductor and founder Claudio Abbado.
However the comparatively recently introduced format of chamber music proms gave them the perfect warm-up. Conveniently the notion of a chamber performance alongside the main act is an important aspect of their tours, with Abbado choosing the repertoire and, presumably, the players.
The affable violist Wolfram Christ, himself a founder member, spoke warmly of the ensemble’s existence on the grounds of enjoying the music they played and the people they played with, two of the top principles of chamber music. When he was asked what he liked about Brahms’ Second String Sextet, he said ‘the mystery’. And there was plenty of it in the soloists’ opening bars, as they set an air of tense foreboding not entirely resolved until the end some forty minutes later. This opening passage was non troppo’ as marked, but exploded into life at the first full tutti, with the forceful cello of Valentin Erben leading the way.
The feeling of unresolved tension was a thread that carried throughout the Sextet, despite a rush of energy as the trio section of the Scherzo arrived, or the calm repose that the players found at the end of the slow movement. It meant that the closing statement was all the more emphatic, the six voices heard as one. The ensemble was superb, and though Ilya Gringolts was the focal point of the six as leader, they were at pains to perform as equals, emphasising the community spirit of the form.
A suitable starter for the meat of the Brahms was found in the rather lighter textures of Mozart’s Flute Quartet, the first of four such works that are often cast of as frivolous asides, but contain some light, open air music. Flautist Jacques Zoon was fully alive to the athletic flute line, playing with a sweetness of tone and legato that was complemented by his three string accomplices. The lightness of the string accompaniment was embodied by violinist Raphael Christ, son of Wolfram, whose light interjections in the Rondo finale were softly humourous.
Throughout the players performed with infectious enthusiasm, again reinforcing the orchestra’s commitment to playing music out of enjoyment rather than duty.