Completing Niagara/Buffalo’s mini-Tchaikovsky festival (David Jalbert recently took St. Catharines by storm with his reading of the B-flat Minor Piano Concerto—cross-reference below) seemed a virtual impossibility as, at 3:25 p.m. I had yet to clear customs on the Peace Bridge and the BPO’s program had no doubt begun its matinée sitting promptly an hour before, but in the back of my mind was music director JoAnn Falletta’s exemplary programming sense, that, surely, would conclude the concert with the perennial favourite, utilizing Vehar’s Light/Lux/Svietio as the appetizer, followed by the Wagner-without-singers quartet of orchestral rousers.
I wasn't disappointed.
Joshua Bell is far more than the “personality” and film-score wunderkind (The Red Violin, cross-reference below) that peppers his current résumé. His very special gift is the ability to draw incredibly beautiful and sensual tones from the violin with an ease that melds instrument and man together. The potential danger (like many in public life today) is to believe the media releases rather than deal constantly and deeply with the issues and subtext that lurk bewitchingly behind the notes.
His non-stop weaving and bobbing about (rather like colleague Midori, cross-reference below) is acceptable if somewhat distracting (but no more so than the electronic timers that, despite warnings in print or in person, bleep at will throughout the stunning Kleinhans Music Hall, and only at the most delicate moments—at today’s performance the opening of the muted “Andante”).
The “Allegro moderato” served to demonstrate Bell’s spectacular skills as he made child’s play of the ferocious technical demands, only occasionally failing to plumb the depths of perfect intonation (early on: the G-string; later, in the cadenza: the stratospheric double stops). With his second entrance, the crowd became respectfully hushed: all admired the most magnificent example of spiccato I have witnessed in years: Merci, mille fois!
His able collaborators—Falletta and her intrepid musicians—were clearly up to the task of supporting and following their talented guest but the partnership turned rocky when Bell chose to startle with his tempi rather than cajole through gradual shifts. This resulted (particularly in the outer movements) in an excitement that was fed by fear of ensemble problems rather than desire to push the artistic envelope to its limits. For her part, Falletta was attentive, clear and pragmatic, but slipped into the role of resolute accompanist when a more proactive collegial approach would have added the “pop” to what was already a marvel of “snap and crackle.”
It was both a privilege and a pleasure to share in this performance but I can’t wait for all concerned to relax, leave the media at bay and let the music find its way. JWR