Divertimenti Ensemble

Divertimenti Ensemble Photo
  • Ralph de Souza - violin
  • Rachel Isserlis - violin
  • Matthew Jones - viola
  • Sebastian Comberti - cello
  • Jane Salmon - cello

Divertimenti have become widely acclaimed as one of the most exciting and innovative British chamber groups of its generation. Four of the players in this outstanding ensemble were founder members at its inception in 1978. All five are top ranking players with a wealth of worldwide concert experience between them, as soloists and orchestral principals as well as chamber music players. Long-standing friends, they share an evergreen love of music making, and a passion for the rich sonorities of the string ensemble repertoire. The core group is a quintet for two cellos, but can expand to sextets and octets and adapt to perform quintets for two violas and also quartets, trios, duos and solos. This unusual flexibility is supported by energetic and innovative programming.

Schubert’s great C major Quintet forms the backbone of many programmes, while other exciting and beautiful quintets for this combination have been discovered. Divertimenti have a long tradition of breaking new ground with adventurous repertoire, and championing the work of lesser known composers. A serious dedication to twentieth century compositions, together with a particular focus on the rich seam of works by British composers, has enabled the creation of attractive and challenging concerts.

Touring throughout the UK and Ireland, Divertimenti have appeared for music societies and major festivals such as Aldeburgh, Bath, King’s Lynn and Lichfield. They have also given concerts in National Trust and other stately homes as well as in Italy, France, Germany and Greece.

The ensemble’s recording activities have included numerous programmes for BBC Radio 3, notably live broadcast concerts at St George’s, Bristol and Pebble Mill, Birmingham. Early interest was attracted by a recording of chamber music by Colin Matthews, and of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet on the Meridian label. Two further recordings on the Hyperion label - Howells and Dyson quartets, and Mendelssohn and Bargiel octets - received unanimous praise from the critics, the latter being singled out for recommendation by BBC Radio 3’s Record Review and by International Record Review. Both recordings received recommendations from BBC Music Magazine and Classic fM (as Record of the Month).

Highlights include the second ever performance of Arnold Bax’s Quintet No 1, together with Dame Ethel Smyth’s Quintet, at the Lichfield Festival, both enthusiastically received. The Bax piece has subsequently been recorded on CD for the Dutton Epoch label – “a thoroughly likeable and valuable release” (The Gramophone).

Another notable discovery has been the Beethoven Kreutzer Quintet, a transcription for cello quintet of the famous violin sonata published in 1892, with scores provided by the Beethovenhaus in Bonn. A recent addition to Divertimenti's exclusive repertoire is the Joseph Miroslav Weber Quintet, which has been released on the Cello Classics label, together with the Brahms String Quintet in F minor (a reconstruction of the original instrumentation of his Piano Quintet Op 34) - “the lyrical flow in this beautiful account is unimpeded” ( Sunday Times). Compelling masterworks of the Russian Romantic School by Catoire and Taneyev, as well as Glazunov's sunny and Tchaikovsky-inspired String Quintet have recently been added to Divertimenti’s repertoire. Welcome finds which have given particular pleasure in their uncovering, are the quintet movement by the Danish disciple of Mendelssohn, Niels Gade, a work, which incorporates both the ardour and the freshness of a composer at the beginning of his career, and a fine quintet by Beethoven’s pupil, Ferdinand Ries (Souvenir d’Italie) from 1836.

In 2021 Divertimenti welcomes three new members. Ralph de Souza, late of the Endellion Quartet, takes over as leader, whilst Matthew Jones takes the viola seat. Jane Salmon, from the Schubert Ensemble completes the new line-up to take the group forward to a new and exciting chapter.