The Primavera Ensemble is a sextet: two violins, two violas and two violoncellos. This is a comparatively unusual chamber music combination, and in this concert each of the works played had its extra element of novelty. First came the Sextet from Capriccio, opus 85, by Richard Strauss: it is linked with an opera on which he was working at the time (1941). It was clear at once that we were to enjoy excellent string tone from Paul Manley (the leader) and Martin Smith (violins), Catherine Musker and Sarah-Jane Bradley (violas) and Andrew Fuller and David Burrowes (violoncello). It is quite a brief work, easy listening to begin the concert.

The String Quintet in C major, opus 29, is not among Beethoven's best known works. As the only 'cello, Andrew Fuller did full justice to an eloquent part, with interesting exchanges with the two violas. This work was composed in Beethoven's early maturity: his life was not very happy, but he had new and exciting ideas about key changes and dynamic contrasts, for example. In this excellent performance, all five instruments exploited their often independent parts.

Among Tchaikovsky's limited chamber music output, the string sextet Souvenir de Florence, opus 70, is an oddity. In its four movements there are lyrical themes and strong rhythms. This work has biographical links with Italy as well as Russia, even with suggestions of a folk-music character.  In a word, as often with Tchaikovsky, romantic ideas are bursting through the classical forms. The Ensemble never failed in the essential sympathetic interpretation and polished playing. 

So we heard music suggesting at least four countries - Germany, Austria, Italy and Russia. Martin Smith, addressing the audience, explained that Paul Manley was playing an Italian violin of 1680, and his own modern instrument was made in Finchley by a Hungarian. We were enjoyably reminded of the international character of serious music.

Graham Mordue