> Dvorak, Elgar Tchaikovsky : Calmel [CA]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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DVORAK: Serenade for strings in E
ELGAR: Serenade for strings in E minor
TCHAIKOVSKY: Serenade for strings in C
Orchestre Bernard Calmel
Recorded in May 1998
PAVANE ADW 7411 [68.08]


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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.

Colin Anderson


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