Arts Review

Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell present Classic Grandeur

Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Joshua Bell present Classic Grandeur

Concert Hall QPAC,

12th Oct 2023

 

Mozart Marriage of Figaro Overture
Beethoven Violin Concerto (original cadenzas by Joshua Bell)
Mozart Symphony No. 40

 

Dr Gemma Regan

 

A memorable concert of classics from some of the best chamber musicians in the world

 

London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields has been one of the world’s favourite orchestras for 65 years. The superstars of the chamber orchestra scene have recorded all of the hits of the classics and were delivering two nights of the Academy’s most evocative music.

 

The second night entitled Classic Grandeur, was a Hooked on Classics compilation of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro Overture, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, Op. 61. and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.

 

The Academy was established by the late Sir Neville Marriner, but is now led by an American, the virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell, which is surprising for a traditional English chamber orchestra! 

 

The vibrant Marriage of Figaro Overture was played to a full concert hall, after a prolonged Welcome to Country, which seemed to be enjoyed by the pommie musicians, but disappointingly omitted the all-important didgeridoo!

 

The familiar crescendos and jaunty iconic opera excerpt seemed to be being enjoyed as much by the musicians as the audience. Joshua Bell was playing and conducting simultaneously at the front, utilising his strong bowing technique and raised elbow to both play and direct simultaneously, with an accompanying nod. 

 

His 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin had a beautiful creamy rich tone which enhanced the frivolity answered by the booming bassoon as they delivered a flawless performance.

 

The excited crowd were on their feet applauding, despite it only being the first of three pieces, indicating that it was an audience who knew a good tune when they heard it! 

 

I was more disappointed by their rendition of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, especially when the highlight was to be Bell’s original cadenzas. 

 

Bell’s loud sniffs were off-putting between each phrase as if he was drawing and holding his breath between each. They were technically brilliant but soulless and frankly, were very similar to one another. It almost seemed like the orchestra had a look of “here we go again” each time he launched into a prolonged cadenza. They might even had time to put the kettle on and have a cuppa, such were the length of the solos.

 

After the interval, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 got them back on track as being one of the world’s best orchestras. Their timing was exquisite. When I closed my eyes, I could have been listening to a perfectly edited and mixed Deutsche Grammophon recording. As this was the last night of a long international tour, they had it moulded to suit their arrangements to fit as gratifyingly as an old pair of shoes. 

 

Their unison parts were played as perfectly as the pyramids were constructed, as you couldn’t discern a space between any of them. This may be related to Bell returning to more of a conductor role, rather than the violin maestro, to be the cohesive glue to the perfectly placed bricks. 

 

Each section created perfection, with the exquisite soaring flutes in the second movement and the delectable sandle-wooded sounds of the oboes in the third. All the instruments descended into a frenzied Mozartian madness, the strings diving into arpeggios and racing up and down the scales with the crazed clarinets.

 

After the last note, the audience again leapt up with raucous applause and then refused to sit until satiated with the rousing Irish music of Australian-born Percy Grainger with Londonderry Air. More popularly known as Danny Boy, it is commonly played at Irish funerals with crooning drunks singing whilst high on whiskey.

As it was the last concert of the tour for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields musicians, it was a particularly emotive ending, which was visible in many of their faces as they hugged one another smiling and wiping away a tear.

 

It was a memorable concert of classics from some of the best chamber musicians in the world and was delightful to hear.

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