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The draw was Joshua Bell playing the Brahms Violin Concerto, for which the London Symphony Orchestra was rewarded with a full house. It spent the rest of the evening introducing us to the lesser-known Janacek – a good idea. Brahms wrapped by Janacek may not make obvious musical sense but the package worked. And under Mark Elder, incredibly making his first LSO appearance in 25 years, the orchestra played with uncommon transparency and vibrancy – not least in the finale to Taras Bulba, bathed in glorious Technicolor. Elder deserves repeat invitations on the strength of that alone.
No one will have felt short-changed, either, by the Jealousy overture, which Janacek wrote for Jenufa before realising his opera did not need an introduction. But the real discovery was The Fiddler’s Child. As Elder pointed out in his spoken introduction, the piece is a blood relative to the tone poems of Dvorak, Janacek’s friend and mentor. And what the LSO’s performance revealed was a 15-minute opera without words – the solo parts taken by violin and viola quartet, the emotional language from the same drawer as Katya Kabanova, the impact scarcely less shattering.
Bell will not have disappointed his many fans. His Brahms was a nightingale’s song – sweet, meditative, a bit head-in-the-clouds but never less than fresh minted. The first movement sounded like Bach, with the bonus of Bell’s own hugely impressive cadenza. The slow movement was the musical equivalent of a ballerina’s reverie, the finale a flight above a polished surface. Here was a violinist creating an idyll for himself and his listeners, very convincing on its own terms. But it was too emotionally sheltered to reveal any of the music’s depths. Bell told us everything we needed to know about the violin. Now he needs to learn a little about life.
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