Five stars for Quintet Zambra

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BUTE Arts Society’s largest audience of the 2011-12 concert season so far enjoyed a real treat on Friday in the form of a superb evening’s entertainment from Quintet Zambra.

The group’s five young members are all recent graduates or current students of the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the RSAMD – but any fears that their youthfulness might mean a sound that was rough around the edges proved, happily, to be ill-founded.

Sadly unforeseen commitments elsewhere meant we missed the first half of the concert, and were rather worried to be told, on arrival during the interval, that “you’ve missed the best bit”.

For first-hand opinions on the overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute, arrangements of a selection of Malcolm Arnold and Dvořák’s String Quartet No. 12 – also known as his ‘American quartet’ – you’ll therefore have to ask someone who was actually present, though from those who did hear them we understand they made for an excellent first half.

However, any concerns that we might really have missed out on the best of the evening were quickly dispelled by the trio of three short pieces – or, rather, Trois Pièces Brèves – by the French composer Jacques Ibert which began the second half.

These, the audience was told, hold a special place in the hearts of the Quintet Zambra members as they were the first pieces the group played together, and the pleasure they took from them was clear for all to hear.

There followed Mozart’s Serenade in C minor, a piece originally written for a wind octet: indeed, four of Friday’s five quintet members (one, Andrew Langford, was standing in on clarinet for Nicola Hunter, who was unable to play due to illness) had played the piece in its original form, which didn’t include a flute part.

This time the group played a quintet arrangement which, far from sounding as if the flute was bolted on to the side as a superfluous addition, actually made Heather North’s role an integral part of the piece – as, of course, it should be.

The best, however, was saved until last in the form of Norman Hallam’s Dance Suite, comprising a waltz, a bossa nova for oboe, a quickstep – complete with sticking-gramophone effect in the middle – and a Charleston.

From the very first bars it was easy to sense the sheer enjoyment of the group in playing the suite, and very soon after that the smiling faces and bobbing heads throughout the audience testified to how much they, too, enjoyed the finale to a fine evening.

Next up in Bute Arts Society’s winter series is a lecture recital by popular pianist Murray MacLachlan on Friday, February 10.