Classical Diamonds and dust

Diamonds and dust

A string ensemble’s reputation and success either stands or falls on their ability to maintain tolerable intonation and tuning. Unfortunately, the Diamond Ensemble had too many lapses of secure intonation and tuning to warrant an unqualified signal of affirmation; this despite their ability to communicate the music’s expressive qualities.

The programme offered two glimpses into Romantic composition: Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major and Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet Souvenir de Florence. The ensemble identified with Schubert’s early Romantic spirit imbued with Classical structuralism, and conveyed the passionate outpouring resplendent in Tchaikovsky’s full-flowering of Romanticism.

In the opening of the Schubert Quintet I was immediately struck by the ensemble’s attention to articulation and details of nuance; unfortunately this initial promise was not sustained. Wayward intonation and tuning aside, the quintet need to concentrate on attaining clearly defined ensemble attack, and create more textural space, in the third and fourth movements, for inner melodies to emerge and develop.

However, their performance of the second movement was especially impressive revealing outstanding control over dynamics, and sustained piano passages whilst maintaining extended lines of tension. From the first bars of Tchaikovsky’s Sextet the ensemble launched themselves into a virile, fervent expression of Romanticism, particularly tangible during the frenzied closing bars of the first movement.

The impassioned duet (second movement) between violinist Samson Diamond and cellist Maciej Lacny, with both thoughtfully rendering every phrase and motive twist with devotion, represented heart-wrenching moments of beauty that were underpinned by elements of superior musicianship. This was music-making from the top drawer.

The ensemble revelled in the Slavic nationalistic spirit and idiom of the third and fourth movements with the rhythmical impulse never waning. However, in the finale (development section) the players were pushed to their limits with the ensemble straining to maintain a semblance of control. I have always been hugely impressed with Diamond’s abilities and artistic commitment, but in this instance it would appear as if some of his colleagues bit off more than they could chew.

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