MUSIC REVIEW: Joshua Bell in a magnificent performance at Tanglewood

Classical Music


Boston Symphony Orchestra
Lenox, Mass.
August 21, 2010
Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck
[LENOX, Mass., Aug. 22]—Violinist Joshua Bell delivered a brilliant performance of Mendelssohn’s Concerto in D minor for violin, piano, and strings on Saturday evening, along with accomplished pianist Jeremy Denk. Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki was on the podium, making her Tanglewood debut leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
The orchestra began the evening with the first selection of the concert, Mendelssohn’s Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Opus 21, a suitably romantic interpretation of the play. The composition offers lighthearted pastoral passages, the flitting movement of the fairy folk, and grand moments of drama as well. Interestingly, BSO bass trombonist Douglas Yeo played a complicated-looking nineteenth-century brass instrument called the ophicleide during the piece.
Then they brought out the piano, rearranged the chairs a bit, and Bell and Denk took their places. The Mendelssohn concerto is an excellent showcase for Bell’s masterful playing, with extended passages for violin and piano that have the orchestra playing only a minor role. Bell is charismatic on stage, his playing rich and beautiful, and Denk at the piano matched Bell in passion and showmanship. They met in 2004 and have been regularly playing together since then; their partnership showed in the smooth and responsive communication they had during the demanding concerto.
The orchestra, under Mälkki’s leadership, was lovely as well. The boldness of the first movement turned to tenderness in the adagio, and finished with the thrilling allegro molto. The excitement and sheer joy that Bell and Denk took in the music was apparent to the appreciative audience; it was a marvelous performance.
After the intermission, Bell returned to play Beethoven’s Romance No. 2 in F for violin and orchestra, Opus 50, with the BSO. This is a less exuberant piece than the Mendelssohn, but Bell’s performance was meticulous and sensitive; his work with the orchestra is perfectly calibrated and the piece was just lovely.
The concert concluded with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in b-flat, Opus 60. This was Mälkki’s opportunity to shine, and with her expressive and passionate conducting style, she led the BSO in producing a wonderfully smooth sound, rich and warm. The symphony is lyrical and lively, and the BSO played it beautifully. It was a stirring finish to a spectacular evening of music.
Lesley Ann Beck is the managing editor of Berkshire Living magazine and reviews the arts for
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