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Festival Review: Joshua Bell Plays Bruch *****

Jo Turbitt reviews 'an absolutely delightful evening'.

Joshua Bell has the energy of a teenager and the finesse of a smooth, aged whisky.

Paired with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (ASMF), it is a match very well made. Both Bell and ASMF are names that I’ve become very familiar with over the last 25 years of listening to Classic FM, both celebrities of the Classical World. Playing with and directing the orchestra, Bell’s bow is his brush, the air in the Usher Hall his canvas and the orchestra, the orchestrations his colour palette. Watching a violinist embody and dance the music as they play fills me with joy, and Bell definitely danced as he joyfully splashed melodic musical colour across the Usher Hall.

Another excellently formatted and planned concert, we went on a fantastical journey throughout the works included in the evening. In Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Overture the orchestra and Bell brought the characters, musical jokes and spirit of the piece to life with classical gumption. Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy Op 46 swept us off to the highlands of Scotland; his dramatic yet very idyllically romantic score whisks us off to the mountains covered in bracken and heather, laced with a smurry fog. Each movement leads us further through the glens to lochs and mountains, through village gatherings, stopping briefly to lament to the lochs, then rounding off with raucous, jovial shindig, full of welly. Bell loved every note and the amassed force of his and ASMF’s energy kept us bounding through the highlands. Beethoven’s Symphony No 6 in F, ‘Pastoral’ saw every musician give it every last thing that they had. The score leads with a distinctive idea then finds a different figure and idea round every phrase. It occurred to me what a colourful composer Beethoven is (was), it also struck me how tragic it was that Beethoven didn’t ever get to hear his own gorgeous work; the dramatically teasing, yet regal opener, the second movement swooping sweeping along interrupted by a chirpy Q&A, finishing with vibrant strong colours of victorious battle.

With Bell leading them, ASMF heroically conquered an absolutely delightful evening.

Joshua Bell Plays Bruch, with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, performed Thursday 24th August 2017 as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival at Usher Hall.

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