Review: Joshua Bell at the National Concert Hall
US artist Joshua Bell has been described as the 'poet of the violin' and judging by his playing here, the title is not misplaced.
He comes as part of the National Concert Hall's own 'Great Artist Series' with the renowned Academy of St Martin in the Fields, of which he is also music director.
Their programme is sturdily built on Brahms and Beethoven but it opens with a diverting element through an orchestrated version of the Chaconne from Bach's 2nd solo violin Partita.
The discreet arrangement by Jonathan Milone is actually based on an earlier piano version by Mendelssohn, who was himself pre-eminent in the Bach revival movement of the mid-19th Century.
Milone's edition gives the soloist a velvety string cushion on which to rest his case, which is unaltered Bach and, through Joshua Bell's exquisite performance, is consistently clear in definition.
But while the accompaniment is intriguing it is also distracting as it takes some of the spotlight from Bell's own virtuoso account of Bach's occasionally demonic lines as well as his translucent expressiveness when the music so demands. One can only suggest 'leave well enough alone'.
The evening's concerto is the Brahms with Bell's interpretation simply superlative. Magisterial at times, he draws on all the romantic warmth inherent in so much of Brahms' writing.
He uses his own cadenza – Brahms didn't actually supply one, leaving it to his original soloist and friend Joseph Joachim to fill in – that is flamboyant and fits into the diversity of the opening movement's structure.
Brahms's Adagio is serenely placid with Bell's ravishing tone melting beautifully into the Academy's equally expressive support. The gypsy-flavoured rondo finale finds Bell and the St Martin's group at one in uninhibited zest.
For Beethoven's First Symphony, sandwiched between Bach and Brahms, Joshua Bell sits in the leader's chair and directs a stunningly refreshing reading with a look, a nod and an occasional sweep of his bow.
His musicians are consistently alert with Beethoven's qualifying 'con brio' marking in the opening allegro taken to heart. The slow movement is rich in dynamic contrast while Beethoven's minuet – a scherzo in all but name – capers with almost rowdy enthusiasm.
The rumbustious finale brings an inherently spirited response from the marvellously blended body of the St Martin musicians and Joshua Bell's consummate artistry.