Festival Music

Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis and Dénes Várjon

Queen’s Hall

Hazel Rowland

five stars

EXPECTATIONS were high for the coming together of three top performers – violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Dénes Várjon – and they certainly did not disappoint. Isserlis’s treatment of Schumann’s wistful melodies in his Three Romances was spot on. He took the first at restrained pace, striking a more reflective than overly emotional tone. Such an approach may have meant that the stormy central section of the second Romance could have been more aggressive, but his refusal to let melodrama reign worked astonishingly well in the third. Here, his understated playing found the perfect balance between being both more upbeat whilst still retaining an air of mystery. Similarly, Clara Schumann’s Three Romances revealed Bell’s more poignant side, who treated his melody with careful delicacy throughout.

If these two duos revealed the performers’ thoughtful sides, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C minor brought an injection of passion. Although the ensemble took the first movement at a brisk pace, Bell still sung exquisitely. The following slow movement allowed the ensemble to show-off their lyrical qualities – the stunning duet between Bell and Isserlis was a treat – yet it was the third movement scherzo, also taken at a thrillingly fast pace, that was the work’s highlight. Not only was their playing spritely, it was highly impassioned, as the trio took full advantage of the movement’s dramatic dynamic contrast. Várjon in particular should be applauded for bravely undertaking such a rapid tempo. His part is already difficult, yet he handled it with flawless ease. Even if Brahms’s Piano Trio in B, which ended the concert, is more refined and gentle than Mendelssohn’s Trio, their full-throttled closure to its final movement provided a more than satisfactory, highly dramatic conclusion.