Culture Magazine

Concert Review: Bell, Bax and Candlepower

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Joshua Bell at Alice Tully Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Concert Review: Bell, Bax and Candlepower

Joshua Bell at work. Photo by Kirk Fratzke for the Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

The violinist Joshua Bell holds a high profile among masters of his instrument, regularly appearing as a soloist with major orchestras or leading his own current band, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. On Thursday night, Mr. Bell gave a recital with pianist Alessio Bax at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, exploring the dichotomy between academic, formal works written for the violin and the flashy virtuoso pieces that dominated the latter half of the 19th century.
The concert started with the studied, seemingly careless elegance of the Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 2, giving Mr. Bell and Mr. Bax an ample canvas upon which to paint with bright colors. Piano and violin dialogued, mirrored each other and even swapped places to thrilling effect, with the keyboard part briefly dominating before the violin resurged to prominence.
Beethoven was followed by his logical and historic successor Johannes Brahms, a composer who sometimes reserved his most profound musical statements for his chamber pieces. The C minor Scherzo is not one of these, but this performance allowed for ample exploration of Hungarian dance rhythms, as the violin lifted its voice over a staccatto rhythm in the keyboard, the two trading lines before reaching a critical juncture and a more lyrical second subject.
Brahms' Violin Sonata No. 3 is at once a more mature product and an example of this composer's ability to make two instruments sound like a multitude. The close collaboration between Mr. Bell and Mr. Bax was essential here, as the violin and piano traded singing lines and melodies that fragmented into shards before reassembling themselves and rolling forward. Mr. Bell's sure technique produced a singing tone in his instrument, slightly dry and reedy but very expressive when placed in the setting of Mr. Bax's accompaniment.
The second half started with Mr. Bell alone, offering a piece for solo violin. This was Eugene Ysaÿe's Sonata in D minor, which drew inspiration both from J.S. Bach's own compositions for the instrument and the under-heard Romanian romantic composer Georges Enescu. Mr. Bell faced down the murderous technical demands of this movement, making this fast-moving Ballade and even faster second movement go like clockwork, sawing raw emotion out of his instrument with a swift, flowing bowing technique that emphasized the quality of legato from note to note.
Mr Bax returned to the keyboard for the Debussy Sonata for Violin and Piano, the last work that the French composer ever completed. Here, soloist and accompanist made clouds of sound float from their instruments, raining notes gently upon the audience in a heady atmosphere of shifting chords and changing modes. The music here sounded deliberately blurred and out-of-focus before a sharp alteration changed the listener's perspectiove enabling them to see the beauty of Debussy's design.
For the finale, Mr. Bell and Mr. Bax collaborated on the six-movement Carmen Fantasy by the virtuoso Pablo Sarasate. This workout for the violinist features popular tunes from the Bizet opera Carmen, in some cases radically reworked to provide technical challenges to the player and thrills to the audience. The laughter of Carmen's flashing dark eyes came across in the Habañera and Seguadille with Mr. Bell's instrument lilting like the voice of a mezzo. Further fireworks erupted in the closing Gypsy Dance, with the soloist shredding across his strings as he kept up with Mr. Bax's galloping hands. It was an exciting note to end on.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog