Monday, April 16, 2012

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields - All-Beethoven - 04/11/12

Conductor: Joshua Bell
Beethoven: Overture to Coriolan, Op. 62
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61 – Joshua Bell
Beethoven: Symphony No 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60

After happily basking in Verdi’s gorgeous œuvre at the Metropolitan Opera for two evenings in a row, the time eventually came to move on to musical highs of a different type. And those were in fact going to happen right next door in the Avery Fisher Hall where, on Wednesday night, the prestigious London-based Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and their newly appointed music director Joshua Bell were scheduled to perform an all-Beethoven feast.
This exciting prospective had actually faced one major hurdle about a month before, when I discovered that I also had a ticket for Mitsuko Uchida playing an all-Schubert recital at Carnegie Hall that very same evening. But I quickly figured that, while both musicians stand equally high in my esteem, Beethoven easily trumps Schubert any day. Moreover, Beethoven’s violin concerto was the last major violin concerto that I had not heard Joshua Bell play at least once, and it was time to cross that one off the list as well. That’s why after a well-deserved day off – Nobody said that steadily supporting live performances was an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it – I was on my way to the Lincoln Center again.

Roman General Coriolanus, the inspiration for Henrich von Collin’s tragedy Coriolan, was confronted with quite a gut-wrenching dilemma when he found himself torn between attacking Rome, the home he had fled after being accused of plotting against it, and giving in to his beloved mother’s plead not to proceed. Unsurprisingly, this will not end well. Back in the Avery Fisher Hall on Wednesday night, Beethoven’s eight-minute Coriolan’s Overture kicked off in full force not only the evening’s concert, which would have been enough of a brilliant idea in itself, but also Joshua Bell’s first US appearance as the orchestra’s new music director and conductor. After getting over the unusual sight of seeing him fulfill all his duties, including violinist, sitting in the concertmaster chair, we got to enjoy a vigorously driven opening number that could only be promising bigger and better things to come.
And they came quickly with, next, Beethoven’s monumental violin concerto. For the occasion, Joshua Bell was back in his more familiar standing position while still conducting with subtle body language, assuredly making use of his much celebrated sweet tone to luminously highlight the pure beauty of the piece. The composer’s combative nature was not completely subdued though, and authoritatively emerged in Bell’s own dramatic cadenzas, which came out blazingly fast and furious. The orchestra, renowned for its refined precision and discreet warmth, kept up with their impeccable reputation and proved to be the ideal partner for the virtuosic soloist.
While not as popular as some of his other symphonies (Being stuck between the Eroica and the Fifth has got to be a tough spot), Beethoven’s Fourth still got an all-out royal treatment, and ended up sounding not unworthy of such a station. Back in the concertmaster’s chair, Joshua Bell led the musicians into an intense and exhilarating interpretation of it, one that was filled with a clear and present sense of purpose. Engagingly brisk and lyrical, this Fourth firmly stood on its own and probably converted more than a few audience members in the process.

After much applause, the musicians were apparently not ready to leave us, or the Viennese masters for that matter. That’s how after rocking the hell out of Beethoven, Joshua and the Brits treated us to the first movement of Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, the first piece that he’s ever heard them perform. Probably best known for opening the film Amadeus, this unexpected bonus wasted no time in gloriously filling up the concert hall with the fiercest Sturm und Drang that could have possibly been mustered out of the majestic work. It also incidentally provided the perfect transition to my next concert, Mozart’s magnificent Requiem, the following evening.

Three down. One to go.

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