Monday, 11 January 2016

Manchester Evening News review 9 January 2016



THE Bridgewater Hall’s international concert series began on a high with a visit from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields – the conductorless chamber orchestra now in the hands of American violin virtuoso Joshua Bell.

They had an extremely good turn-out for so early in the year, and part of the reason was no doubt the attraction of hearing Bell with his good friend Steven Isserlis in Brahms’s ‘double’ concerto for violin and cello.

That was only one facet of a stunningly good concert, however. Bell seems to have the knack of drawing performances of extraordinary pizzazz from his London players, even in such well-charted territory as Beethoven symphonies. They’re on a project to record them all with him directing, and if the performance of no. 8 in this concert is anything to go by they will be very high up in the competitive heap indeed.

It was a thoroughly 21st century reading: lively speeds, spiky articulation, vivid colours (with nice braying sounds from horns and trumpets and a ‘classical’ timpani sound prominent). In fact the opening chord was almost obliterated by a mighty thwack on the timps, but the timing was perfect and it certainly made you sit up and listen.

Joshua Bell aims for tremendous bite in Beethoven’s livelier rhythms, which didn’t quite come together at the start of the finale, but vivacity and drive were there throughout. The second movement was almost comic in its chug-chug regularity, and the Trio of the third was beautifully played (and contrasted) by all concerned.

The concert programme offered a solo with orchestra by each of the big names: Isserlis in a magical account of Dvořák’s Silent Woods (balance didn’t come quite right until the middle section, but it was worth the wait), and Bell in the rarely heard second movement of Schumann’s violin concerto, in an arrangement with codetta, for strings only, made by Britten. In point of fact this turned out to be a duo for violin and solo cello with orchestra for much of its length: it was another spell-binding experience.

The double concerto began with an accident: Steven Isserlis dropped his bow just before the big entry at the start and they had to begin again. No matter – it was a well-honed reading of great excellence, with soloists who are perfectly suited to each other’s styles. The playing had tender beauty as well as incisive energy, and the third movement was affirmative and joyous – a true testament of friendship, as Brahms intended it to be.


Robert Beale

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