First Night: Harmonic tribute to a legend

Tribute to Peter Diamond English Chamber Orchestra Barbican, London
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The Independent Online
THE MAN who for many years masterminded the Holland and Edinburgh festivals, who had been Artur Schnabel's secretary and who survived Nazi persecution, was last night celebrated with a concert organised to raise money for the fund established in his memory.

It seems that the late Peter Diamond (1913-1998) was widely loved and respected. Daniel Barenboim writes of a true witness of musical life, Radu Lupu of intelligence, warmth, friendship and loyalty.

Both expressed their gratitude in musical terms with a sparkling account of Mozart's E Flat concerto for two pianos, the one that the composer himself played with his pianist sister, Maria Anna.

Barenboim was the more playful participant, while Lupu was his more temperate alter ego. The first movement witnessed a marked contrast in their playing styles, with Lupu more prone to stress left-hand material (as in the beautiful second subject).

But as the concerto progressed, there was a noticeable shift towards greater equanimity, so that by the time they had finished, the two players were like two friends conversing on equal terms. Such artistry rightly inspired a storm of applause - and an impromptu performance of Mozart's loveliest duo-sonata slow movement. After the interval, Sir John Drummond spoke of Diamond's integrity, sense of humour and talents as an opera casting director.

These warm reflections were musically mirrored by three Brahms intermezzi, Op 117, sublime late utterances, the first of which Radu Lupu brushed with the softest of tones.

The second piece is like celestial salon music and Lupu's improvisatory reading was among the finest I've heard, especially when it came to the caressing return of the opening theme. The third had a solemn bardic quality and ended in the spirit of infinite sadness. Still, there was a pick-me- up close to hand when Teresa Berganza joined the ECO and Claudio Abbado for agile, unforced performances of Rossini's "Cruda sorte" from The Italian girl in Algiers and the habanera from Bizet's Carmen.

No one could pretend that the voice is as vibrant as it once was, but neither could they deny that Berganza's artistry is still very much intact.

The concert closed as it had opened, with purely orchestral music. Barenboim's overture was a sprightly Marriage of Figaro, whereas Abbado signed off with two popular movements from Schubert's Rosamunde ballet music, trim, minutely observed readings generous with repeats, and crisply phrased.

As tributes go, this one couldn't have concluded with greater taste or finesse. I have a feeling Diamond would have approved.

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