Monsieur Calmel conducts his small group of
17 string-players in pleasing performances of three very popular
works. There’s no doubting the ensemble’s unanimity and commitment,
or that Calmel puts great store in expressive phrasing and emotional
input. The recording is good too – space and focus in just combination.
Yet, this size of string orchestra always seems a halfway house
between string quartet and symphony orchestra; with it comes
limitations of colour. What is appropriate for Baroque or Classical
works condenses Romantic music’s expressive dimensions.
Dvorak’s five-movement piece comes
off best. Tempos are well chosen and there’s a pleasing blend
of sonorities; playing is nimble and alert. A resigned sadness
informs the ‘Larghetto’ fourth movement, malleably phrased here,
engagingly emotive. Elgar’s oeuvre is less happy, the musicians’
affection for Dvorak replaced by something more objective; Elgar’s
whimsy is lost crossing the channel.
A bigger sound is required for Tchaikovsky’s great
work, one of this writer’s ‘special’ pieces – greater depth
of response, more pathos and weight of sound. This is an able
performance, yet something more revealing of Tchaikovsky’s soul,
one displaying more fondness and feeling is mandatory. The overly
distended opening suggests Calmel appreciates this, but wringing
out every drop of emotion and tone from his band, and retarding
the tempo, sets up the wrong sort of tension. More players giving
less sound would create the emotional fragility that is intrinsic
to this music.