Classical Samson Diamond: A polished performance

Samson Diamond: A polished performance

A packed Beethoven Room greeted Samson Diamond’s inaugural recital as the Standard Bank Young Artist Award Winner for Music (2010). Diamond, a worthy recipient of this award, gave an assured, disciplined and passionate performance. As an ambassador for music in general, and string playing in particular, the performer leads by example: every note and phrase was thoroughly prepared and precisely delivered. Diamond is a consummate musician to his fingertips.

In an unusually constructed programme, obviously the result of extensive exposure to the contemporary British interest in unusual musical phenomena and unconventional, eclectic programming, Diamond introduced two infrequently heard works to festival-goers. His boldness in choosing this programme should be applauded, and was acknowledged by the capacity crowd.

In Eugéne Ysaÿe’s Second Sonata for Solo Violin in A minor Op 21, which opened the concert, Diamond asserted his supreme authority over the violin and the music.

Utterly remarkable
He commands the stage and his playing demands your attention. Technical brilliance, faultless intonation, an astounding array of dynamic colours and articulation nuances, as well as utterly remarkable control over double-stopping (where each line spoke with clarity and musical purpose) merged into an artistic feat which communicated the essence and soul of each musical thought.

This was especially apparent in the plaintive longing he conjured in the hauntingly poignant Malinconia second movement. Diamond’s playing reveals, and communes, a comprehensive understanding of the score. This was evident in his thematic foregrounding in the fourth movement (Les Furies) and resolution of dissonances in the harmonic structure of the Sarabande (Danse des Ombres).

In the Diamond Quartet (Samson Diamond – violin, Kabelo Motlhomi – violin, Elbe Roberts – viola, Kutlwano Masote – cello) Diamond has welded together a formidable group. They performed George Crumb’s avant-garde string quartet Black Angels (Thirteen Images from the Dark Land) with total commitment, communicated as one voice, and provided ample evidence of meticulous preparation.

Artistic intention
Their handling of multiple instruments (maraca, crystal glasses, glass rods, tam-tam bowing and mallets, for instance) and their own amplified acoustic instruments called for careful stage choreographing and supreme co-ordination. This demanding work also calls on the performers to speak, produce various sounds with their mouths and incorporate body percussion. All of this was achieved with astounding musical purpose and artistic intention; credit to the powers of concentration.

Diamond’s admirable leadership exhibited his deep understanding of the score and his dedication to musical discipline. Crumb’s experimentalism was immediately to the fore as extended (sul ponticello) string technique, emphasising higher harmonics, produced an unconventional “glassy” sound and a hair-raising timbre.

Intermingled with an aching (bowed) motif, this opening movement set the scene for a riveting musical experience.

Haunting evocation
Diamond’s virtuosity in the Devil-music fourth section (First Threnody) was the perfect integration of musical technique and emotional soul playing. This work (completed in 1970) expands the traditional definition of music, and is as much a reflection of the Vietnam War as it is a commentary on the religious discord endemic at that time.

This haunting evocation touched the audience’s sensibilities, and will live with this reviewer for a long time yet. Bravo!

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