View Full Version : Review: Joshua Bell in Chapel Hill, NC, USA - UNC Memorial Hall

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
November 4th, 2012, 03:49 PM
Notable violinist Joshua Bell presented a beautiful program with pianist Sam Haywood on November 2, 2012 at 8 PM, in Chapel Hill, NC, sponsored by the Carolina Performing Arts series of the University of North Carolina at Memorial Hall. Given Opera Lively's intention of strengthening our coverage of non-operatic classical music, we attended the recital.

The pieces played by the gifted violinist included Schubert's Rondo for Violin and Piano in B Minor, Op. 70, César Franck's Violin Sonata in A Major, and Prokofiev's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94 bis. Encores included Tchaikovsky's Mélodie in E-flat Major (No. 3 from Souvenir d'un lieu cher, Op. 42, 1978), followed by Saint-Saëns' Introduction et rondo capriccioso en la mineur, Op. 28.

Joshua Bell of course dispenses introduction. The sold-out audience at Memorial Hall was excited about having had in the same week three phenomenal events - just a couple of days prior we had the Mariinsky Orchestra and Maestro Valery Gergiev in two outstanding programs (reviewed [here (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/arts/music/mariinsky-orchestra-plays-rite-of-spring-in-north-carolina.html)] by the New York Times, and [here (http://operalively.com/forums/showthread.php/1304-Review-Maestro-Gergiev-and-the-Mariinsky-Orchestra-in-Chapel-Hill-NC-USA)] by Opera Lively), and with the added presence of today's arguably most acclaimed major star of the violin, the New York Times referred to Chapel Hill this week, not less than three times, as the current capital of the classical music world.

Mr. Bell is fresh out of his recent appointment as the new Music Director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra. He will tour Europe with the orchestra this Fall, and has plans to record all the Beethoven symphonies with it, starting with the 4th and the 7th. His discography previously with DECCA and now exclusively with Sony Classics encompasses more than 40 CDs. Upcoming tours in 2013 include another European tour, this time with the New York Philharmonic (in which he holds a position on the Board of Directors), and an American tour with the Cleveland Orchestra. He performs on a 1713 Huberman Stradivarious violin with a late 18th-century French bow by François Turtle.

His accompanist, the British pianist Sam Haywood, is also an accomplished musician. Mr. Haywood is a prolific composer, transcriber, and editor, and has co-written a children's opera. He is the recipient of the prestigious Isselis award by the Royal Philharmonic Society. We're glad to know that he is an avid opera lover. His discography includes the first recording of Chopin's music played on the master's own Pleyel piano of 1846.

While Mr. Bell's rendition of it was flawless, I'm not particularly fond of the Schubert piece he picked for the opening of the recital - also called Rondeau Brilliant - with its jarring phrases and constant interruptions, even though in the later bars this fragmentation does turn into more lyricism.

Things became much more exciting with the second piece, by Romantic composer Franck (1822-1890), born in Liège (which was then part of the Netherlands but is now in Belgium). This work is arguable Franck's best, or at least best known, and it is very interesting indeed, with its cyclic way of coming back to common themes throughout all four movements. It starts very suave; then volume and tension increase rapidly, but are nevertheless interperssed with delicate phrasing. This alternation is also seen in the Allegro (second movement) which starts with beautifully lyric piano runs but accelerates into a locomotive-like crescendo. The happy third movement engages in acrobatic tunes that give the virtuosic violinist a good opportunity to display his improvisatory skills. It all ends very satisfactorily in a fourth movement that goes into canonic writing between the instruments, and concludes majestically. By the way, Joshua Bell has a recording of it, with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.


After an intermission, we heard the Prokofiev piece. This was another winner. It is based on the composer's own Flute Sonata in D, Op. 94, which was written in 1942 but was rearranged for violin one year later, thanks to Prokofiev's friend violinist David Oistrack who wanted to play it. Well, the fact that it was originally composed for flute impacts on this piece a great dose of elegance. The Moderato first movement starts with descending triads on the piano, doubled by the violin. This is followed by a lively Presto that acquires some gypsy tones and ends abruptly, to give way to a very melodious Andante that sends the audience into a dreamy state. The rhythmic, saccadic fourth and final movement again enables Mr. Bell to dazzle and impress, and violin and piano finish the piece very much together. Wild standing ovation greeted the two performers.

Well, it wasn't all. We got treated to two spectacular encores. We actually liked the encores a lot more than the core program. The brief (under 4 minutes) very pleasant Tchaikovsky piece Mélodie is tailor made for a violinist like Mr. Bell, with its dynamic variations and rapid trills. Let's listen to this YouTube clip of it, with an equally talented artist, Jasha Heifetz:


Then, we got to the Saint-Saëns. Wow! This is extremely beautiful, and Mr. Bell played it by memory, with abandon and remarkable passion. The composer found inspiration in Spanish dance music, for this piece originally composed in 1863 for violin and orchestra. It is, again, perfect for a recital like this one, since it is full of ornaments with trills and octave jumps, virtuosic arpeggios with a lot of syncopation, and pleasing chromatic flourishes. It is a true show piece with its use of repeated staccato up bows. The audience was delirious, but unfortunately the very prolonged ovation failed to bring back Mr. Bell and Mr. Haywood for a third encore. We wanted more!

Our readers who have missed this great recital can enjoy this consolation: Mr. Bell is on YouTube with the Saint-Saëns piece! Listen to it here (with orchestra):


We are once more grateful to Mr. Emil Kang, the Director of the Carolina Performing Arts series, for bringing to the North Carolina Triangle these great musicians. Next, Opera Lively will be attending and reviewing Sir John Eliot Gardiner with his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir - didn't we say that Chapel Hill is the capital of classical? - who will be playing Beethoven's 9th (as well as the composer's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, Op. 112) at Memorial Hall, on November 14. Tickets can still be found [here (https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/performances/event.aspx?id=22cee110-f277-46e3-baef-0f260f819a3b)] but probably won't last; we expect another sold-out house. Tenor Michael Spyres who is part of the show will be granting us an interview that day. Stay tuned.