Despite being nestled in London’s Red Lion Square, Conway Hall somehow captures the atmosphere of your old-fashioned village hall: a plain stage, rows of carefully arranged loose chairs, a mislaid piece of sheet music, even the faint whiff of dust burning on radiators. Yet it has a most tempting Sunday Concert series offering, on the evidence of this evening’s fare from the London Mozart Players Chamber Ensemble, an excellent standard of performances. My first visit was prompted by the programme, where two favourite string sextets carried us from shimmering moonlight to Florentine sunshine.

© Ruth Rogers
© Ruth Rogers
Mozart’s Divertimento in D major K136, in string quartet guise, acted as an amiable entrée, brisk tempi and clean, focused tone and a friendly, collegiate rapport. Cellist Sebastian Comberti had given a short preamble, something I wish more performers would attempt. He also spoke before Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, explaining how the Vienna Music Society rejected the work for performance on account of “a chord which could not exist” – the inverted ninth chord in bar 42. Comberti then read an English translation of Richard Dehmel’s poem on which Schoenberg’s work is based, and its moving description of a man and woman walking through a dark forest on a moonlit night, when the woman shares with her new lover that she is bearing the child of another man.

This set the scene for a keenly felt account of Schoenberg’s richly chromatic score, driven by the ensemble’s first violin, Ruth Rogers, an engaging leader who absolutely radiates enjoyment of the music. Her lively attack, swaying upper body and keen eye contact ensured tight ensemble, from the gentle pulse of the opening throbs to the sensitive shading of the woman’s confession. Comberti led the man’s response, his noble cello tone seasoned with tender vibrato. Judith Busbridge, whose mellow viola playing caressed for much of the evening, here drew more sinew. Ferocious bowing gave way to watery moonbeams, bathing the listener in a nocturnal glow.

If we were emotionally transported in the Schoenberg, Tchaikovsky transported us in spirit to the heart of Italy in his Souvenir de Florence, composed just nine years before Verklärte Nacht. It’s only really the Adagio cantabile slow movement which has its roots in Italy though. Tchaikovsky had jotted down the melody whilst he was in Florence working on his opera The Queen of Spades. This theme is the “souvenir” referred to in the title. The sextet, however, bursts with bright sunlight and ebullience, captured in a lively reading by the LMP ensemble after a few initial moments of rough intonation. Here is Tchaikovsky in carefree mood, pizzicatos bouncing between players one moment, and echoing a mandolin accompanying the violin/cello serenade the next. Violas beamed in the trio section of the energetic Scherzo. Outer movements were vigorously played, the Allegro vivace finale sounding like a stamping cossack tune, the players caught up in the whirling theme, a scrambling fugato bringing the work to a close with unbridled joy. A splendid evening, ending on an uplifting note.