Yannick Callier: Cello
Michel Durand-Mabire: Violin
Marie-Anne Hovasse: Viola
Frédéric Lagarde: Cello
Nicolas Patris de Breuil: Viola
Marie-Laurence Rocca: Violin
As the eight-day Musique dans la Rue (Music in the Streets) festival carries on all over the town of Aix-en-Provence, making it even livelier than usual, I have been desperately combing through the ruthlessly exciting program to try to fit in as many as possible of its free 30-minute performances, to which I have to add a 30-minute wait, into my packed schedule. Fact is, quite a few of them simply looked too intriguing to pass on, regardless of circumstances.
And that’s exactly how I felt about Johannes Brahms’ first sextet that was going to be performed by six professors of the Conservatoire d’Aix-en-Provence, Sextuor Mirabeau, which sounded just about one notch above the performance of Borodin’s String Quartet No. 2 by four professors last Sunday. But hey, the more, the merrier, and since our monthly summer storm thankfully decided to happen on Tuesday, I found myself in the Chapelle des Oblats’ packed cloister again yesterday for another short, but oh so rewarding, musical evening.
Turns out that this concert was originally scheduled in the conservatoire’s regular programming this past season, but had to be cancelled for obvious reasons. I am not sure if the musicians took advantage of the extra time to practice more, but they all sounded mighty fine yesterday as they were creating the less commonly heard textures and colors of Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1.
That said, although his sextets may not be as popular as some of his other pieces (Let's face it, the competition is pretty daunting), it has to be pointed out that the wonderful Andante has kind of developed a life of its own with occasional appearances in pop culture, including in the Stark Trek: The Next Generation series as well as the films Les Amants and The Piano Teacher. So there.
But it was back to the basics, i.e. six musicians playing together on a stage before an audience, yesterday, and they certainly excelled at bringing out the rich complexity, gorgeous lyricism and overall warmth of the composition. Opening with a gentle theme exquisitely played by the two cellos and one of the violas, the first movement was immediately engaging and superbly expansive. But then again, the entire performance turned out to be a true feast for afficionados of richly burnished, lusciously dark sonorities, the type that one can hear when two cellos and two violas hold their own against the two violins that are used to running the show. In the end, everybody, including the ecstatic audience, won.