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Paganini in London: La Crema di Cremona, Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music London. 3.3.2006 (ED)


JS Bach - Chaconne, arr. for cello by Colin Carr

Colin Carr, cello (‘Marquis de Corberon’ Stradivarius, 1726)

Franck - Sonata for violin and piano

Maurice Hasson, violin (Guadagnini c.1753); Nicola Eimer, piano

Tchaikovsky - Souvenir de Florence op 70

Clio Gould, violin (‘Rutson’ Stradivarius, 1694)

Dominika Rosiek, violin (‘Kustendyke’ Stradivarius, 1699)
Paul Silverthorne, viola (Antonio and Girolamo Amati, 1620)
Yuko Inoue, viola (‘Archinto’ Stradivarius, 1696)
Louisa Tuck, cello (‘Segelman’ Stradivarius, 1692)

Jonathan Deakin, cello (Rogeri, c. 1690)


This concert showcased the cream of Cremonese instruments held in the Royal Academy of Music’s collection, along with playing of uneven quality and impact throughout the evening.


Although the programme did not feature any Paganini compositions, Colin Carr began it with apologies to Bach and violinists, and also in a self-confessed “devil may care attitude” that he felt appropriate to Paganini's spirit. Carr's own arrangement of the violin Chaconne took some time to sit easily anywhere on the cello, despite the fact that the Stradivarius instrument was possessed of a rich mid tonal range and a graceful, bright and unforced top register. Carr noted in the programme that “the extra resonance of the cello is wonderful for the ground bass of the Chaconne”, and I would not disagree regarding the “extra nobility” brought to the work by the transposition: where I do disagree is with regard to loss of brilliance. There was plenty of mellowness even in the merest whisper of tone drawn from the ‘Marquis de Corberon’, which transformed itself into a deeply resonant and pliant line that readily caught inflections of light and shade.


Maurice Hasson and Nicola Eimer made a somewhat ill-matched pairing for the mighty Franck sonata.  With little obvious feeling for the work, Hasson set into it with a supple enough line that impressed more by tone than phrasing. But - perhaps too often, as the work progressed - he resorted to extremes, finding a stillness (albeit rarely) within the sonata’s pages, or more often a piercing intensity achieved by the use of bowing that gave the notes such edge that they might have been razor slashes across the music.  By contrast, the piano playing of Nicola Eimer was finely delivered to present a much more unified (and indeed unifying) influence on the work.  With sensitivity to both phrasing and tonal projection, not to mention effort in coordinating the often fearsome parts, Eimer somehow managed to capture a significant portion of the sonata’s power, even if this was not all it might have been.


Tchaikovsky came to the rescue of the evening however after the interval, with a work that at least projected some Italian warmth, if not actually from Cremona itself. The first movement set off at a fair pace under Clio Gould’s leadership and she was also expressive in using vibrato to good effect. With violins, violas and cellos working in pairs and also independently of each other, clear answering phrases and lines were established, passing motifs between instruments with freedom. The sextet as a whole displayed a collective brightness of tone and a good standard of unison playing. The first viola announced a mellow tone whilst the first cello had a pleasing richness about it.


The second movement was notable for the weighting of individual tones and the building of textures. An intimate feeling pervaded the exchanges between first violin and second cello, and  later the second cello provided an effective ground upon which a multi-faceted yet stately discussion between all the sextet's could take place. This contrasted later, with a theme of some nervousness, that developed into waves of swelling passion played with fine pizzicato by the second violin and violas, prior to the cellos' entry which was announced with some ardour. The movement provided the most typically Tchaikovsikian opportunities for heart-on-sleeve playing, which the sextet latched on to with abandon.


In further contrast, the third movement provided opportunities for collective introspection, though the playing was spirited if intentionally somewhat disjointed. This led into passages of playful energy and vivaciousness, which, though suddenly broken in mood as the group remembered former introspective moments, was re-established to winning effect.


The last movement opened in a mood similar to that of a country dance quickly picking up energy and enthusiasm through the lyricism of the individual parts. The culmination was a rich and confident solidity in ensemble playing that brought intensity of expression and elation to the close of the evening.


Evan Dickerson




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