Violinist Joshua Bell brought intensity to his Sept. 28 performance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for the opening concert of the subscription season at Music Hall (Photo credit: Lee Snow)
REVIEW: Joshua Bell dazzles, ‘Rite’ impresses in CSO’s season opener
By Janelle Gelfand
Cincinnati Business Courier
September 29, 2018
Violinist Joshua Bell closed his eyes and began Sibelius’ bleak opening theme coolly, as if the sound were emerging out of nowhere. What followed was a dazzling and deeply personal performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto that riveted from beginning to end.
The Bloomington-born virtuoso, 50, one of the world’s great violinists, made a welcome return to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on Friday to open the subscription season in Music Hall. His past appearances with the orchestra include his performance of the same concerto in 1991.
The hall was nearly sold out for both concerts led by music director Louis Langrée, who framed the violin concerto with two works by Stravinsky – both previously conducted by the composer in this hall. He opened with Stravinsky’s youthful “Feu d’artifice” (“Fireworks”) and capped the evening with one of the most searing performances of “Le Sacre du printemps” (“The Rite of Spring”) in memory.
Bell plays the Gibson ex-Huberman Stradivarius of 1713, from the maker’s golden period. It was a rare treat to hear what he could do on this stunning instrument, which has its own story of being stolen, missing for more than 50 years and recovered only in 1985.
He brought intensity to every note of Sibelius’ Concerto in D Minor, a work that is both brooding and romantic. The cool, Nordic passages that open the concerto gave way to lyrical themes, which the violinist communicated with Od World romanticism and a glorious tone. His cadenzas were electrifying displays, performed with bravura and imagination.
It was vibrant, athletic playing. Bell leaned back, crouched, turned to the orchestra and mopped his brow between movements. The slow movement was warm and dark, and he smiled as he played its expressive themes. He soared brilliantly through the diabolical virtuosities of the finale, almost dancing along with the timpani beats that open the movement (Patrick Schleker).
Langrée offered excellent support, and the orchestra contributed atmospheric playing. At the conclusion, listeners were on their feet in an instant.
More than a century after its tumultuous Paris premiere in 1913, Stravinsky’s ballet “The Rite of Spring” still sounds revolutionary. It could be that Music Hall’s “new” acoustics (following its recent $143 million makeover) contributed to a sound Friday that was both biting and explosive.
Starting with the slithering bassoon solo (Christopher Sales) that introduces “Adoration of the Earth,” the precision of the musicians’ playing made a dynamic statement. Langrée propelled the orchestra with tremendous forward sweep. Rhythmic attacks were searing. Climactic moments, such as the finale to Part I, “Dance of the Earth,” were overwhelming.
It was as much a visual spectacle as an aural one, when the nine horns lifted their bells or the bass drum and timpani pounded out with primitive force. Langrée superbly balanced the music’s eerie, mystical moods against those of fierce, raw power.
Stravinsky’s short fantasy for orchestra, “Fireworks,” was an ideal opener, because one could hear in its colorful writing and off-beat accents a sign of things to come in “The Rite of Spring.”
The orchestra has had noticeable turnover, with eight newly appointed musicians (including already announced principal trumpet Robert Sullivan). In addition, the CSO is holding auditions for a new concertmaster to succeed Timothy Lees, who has stepped down due to injury. In the concertmaster’s seat this weekend was David Radzynski, a Columbus native who has served as concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic since 2015.
The concert repeats at 8 p.m. Sept. 29 in Music Hall. Tickets are limited – click here or call 513-381-3300
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