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Concert reviews

"The Big Three"

Ensemble Diamanté
concert: Nov 3, 2011, Utrecht, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Partita for violin in d minor (BWV 1004): chaconne; Sonata for harpsichord and viola da gamba in D (BWV 1028); Trio sonata in C (after Sonata for organ in G, BWV 530); George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759): Trio sonata for recorder, violin and bc in c minor, op. 2,1a (HWV 386a); Pierre PROWO (1697-1757): Trio sonata for recorder, violin and bc in d minor (formerly attributed to Telemann; TWV 42,d10); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata for recorder and bc in C (TWV 41,C2); Trio sonata for recorder, violin and bc in a minor (TWV 42,a1)

Tomokazu Ujigawa, recorder; Rie Kimura, violin; Robert Smith, cello, viola da gamba; Aya Fukuma, harpsichord

It is not recommendable for young ensembles to play music which appears on the programmes of more established musicians. Therefore I was rather sceptical about the announcement of the programme which the Ensemble Diamanté was going to play in Utrecht, as part of a series of five in the Dutch Early Music Network. "The Big Three": Bach, Handel and Telemann - how obvious a programme can be? But it wasn't quite what I expected: at least the compositions by Telemann are not that well-known, and as I am a big fan of his I am happy with any concert where his music is played.

The Ensemble Diamanté was founded in 2009 by former students of the conservatoires of Amsterdam and The Hague. They have been prizewinners in Brughes and Wassenaar and the individual members also have won prizes. That makes one curious to find out which qualities have impressed the various panels of judges. According to the programme sheet they have earned a reputation with their flair and accuracy. That is a pretty good description of my assessment of their concert.

It started off with the Trio sonata in a minor by Telemann, which was nicely played, but a little too restrained. The grave was particularly beautiful.
Robert Smith showed quite some ambition by then playing the Sonata for harpsichord and viola da gamba in D by Bach. I was impressed by his technical skills, and he gave a really good performance. The andante was expressive, and in the closing allegro he explored the dramatic contrasts. The balance between the two instruments was not perfect: the harpsichord could have had a bit more presence.
Then Tomokazu Ujigawa played the Sonata in C by Telemann. A beautiful tone and a flawless technique were the basis for a performance which certainly did show the flair the programme sheet talked about. Particularly striking was the allegro, followed by a grave which was played with much feeling.
The first part closed with the Trio sonata in d minor which is included in the catalogue of Telemann's works. Last year it was discovered that it was actually written by Pierre Prowo (1697-1757), but also written in Hamburg where Telemann worked (*). Never mind, it is a nice piece which was given a sparkling performance by the four artists.

The second part started with another trio sonata, this time by Handel, the Sonata in c minor. The contrasts between the various movements was well worked out; now and then the recorder was a little overshadowed by the rather penetrating tone of the violin.
Rie Kimura was responsible for the most ambitious part of the programme, the chaconne from Bach's Partita in d minor for violin solo. It turned out to be a little too ambitious. I liked the interpretation, and one could argue that, despite technical shortcomings, a captivating performance like this is preferable to a technically flawless but uninteresting interpretation. Basically I agree, but when at several moments the intonation is off then that is a bit painful for the ears. This piece is extremely difficult, and I don't think it was a good idea to include it in the programme. That doesn't take anything away from my admiration of Rie Kimura who is an excellent violinist.
Bach also concluded the programme with a performance of one of his trio sonatas for organ, the Sonata in G, here transposed to C. It is quite common practice these days to play these trios with an instrumental ensemble. This performance was convincing, with a particularly good exposition of the rhythmic pulse.

Two features of the ensemble's performances I noted with satisfaction. Firstly, moments of punctuation - often a kind of hinges between episodes - were well observed, creating dramatic contrasts within a movement. Secondly I liked the driving force of the basso continuo, in particular by Robert Smith.

All in all, this was a most enjoyable evening, with a nice programme performed by a fine young ensemble which I definitely shall keep an eye on.

(*) According to the Dutch musicologist Dr Thiemo Wind the ensemble's information about the authorship of the Sonata in d minor isn't quite correct. The two treble parts are by Telemann; only the basso continuo part can be attributed to Prowo.
Thanks to Dr Wind for the correction.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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