First-class performance of a Brahms masterpiece by Vivanti String Sextet

Vivanti  String Sextet: Yuka Eguchi, Malavika Gopal (violins), Victoria Jaenecke, Martin Jaenecke (violas), Ken Ichinose, Rowan Prior (cellos)

Brahms: String Sextet no.1 in B flat, Op.18

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 14 November 2018, 12:15 pm

A sizeable audience heard this masterwork from Brahms, played by a sextet made up of members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (plus friend Martin Jaenecke).  The work is seldom heard, probably because of the difficulty of assembling a sextet.  I don’t think I have heard it live since a concert given by a visiting ensemble in a Festival concert many years go – was it 1988?  1990?  They played also the String Sextet no.2.

Immediately the musicians commenced, we were treated to a gorgeous sound. – mellow, reassuring, in the first movement’s allegro ma non troppo.  The players performed with confidence and panache, and the church’s acoustics did them proud.  Darker tones entered; a cello solo was most mellifluous.  The music approached grandeur, but in a rather nostalgic manner.  Plucking from the cellos added piquancy.

A general excitement of tempo and volume led to a new, placid theme, which was passed around the players.  Its chromaticism gave a persuasive romanticism to the music.  A waltz towards the end was graceful, then a brief passage with all playing pizzicato finished the movement.

Throughout, the playing was splendid from all the musicians.  The second movement (andante ma moderato) had a strong opening to its theme and variations.  The song-like theme was harmonised in a very straightforward way.  The first variation was for the cello, and was given an excellent performance by Ken Ichinose.  (From where I was seated I could not see if Rowan Prior also played in this variation).  The violas took it up, and gave the theme considerable embroidery, before the cello had another complex variation, jumping all over the fingerboard.

Then the violas returned with a strong hymn-like variation.  The violins now had their chance, playing the same variation, before they had a passage playing a melody against the violas playing a drone accompaniment.  The cellos were at first absent from this interchange, until they took up with some pizzicato.  Cellos now had the melody, more-or-less straight.  The music became quieter, and slowly wound down to its end.

The Scherzo third movement was a very tuneful dance,  full of good spirits.  It was bouncy and euphonious.  The short trio lived up to its tempo (animato), driving forward constantly, as did the also animated scherzo, on its return.

The final movement, Rondo, was marked poco allegretto e grazioso.  It was sonorous and cheerful.  There was plenty of dynamic variety, and all was played splendidly, with superb subtlety and fabulous tone.  Gentle passages echoing the first movement helped the music wind down gradually in sombre vein, but it picked up animation again in the final bars.  This is a great work of chamber music, and it was marvellous to hear it, in such a first-class performance.


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