Festival Music

Joshua Bell and Denes Varjon

Queen’s Hall

Martin Kershaw

five stars

SO HERE is how it is done: a violin and piano recital that was thrilling, riveting and moving in equal measure. And it is telling that the concert was billed as "Joshua Bell and Denes Varjon", for this was by no means a solo showcase with obeisant accompaniment, but a duo performance of breathtaking fluency from two musicians at the absolute top of their game. Apart from anything else the programme demanded it: three violin sonatas by three Romantic heavyweights not remotely inclined to put the piano in the sidelines.

Mendelssohn’s F Major Sonata opened proceedings, and what a joy it was. The feisty, joyful outer movements were especially captivating, Bell and Varjon joined at the hip and playing with infectious, palpable zest. Their synchronicity was remarkable to behold, and bordered on the psychic – phrasing locked, dynamics shifting in perfect unison, tuning and balance consistently well-judged.

Skipping forward 40 years or so, we come to Brahms's Violin Sonata No 1, a very different animal, but played with just as much commitment and assurance. The work is steeped in nature – rolling hills, lush meadows, newly fallen rain, a storm brewing somewhere – and we were given every detail in powerful colours; no texture or flavour was left untouched.

The second half was entirely given over to Grieg’s Violin Sonata No 3, a densely constructed creation, highly demanding of both performers’ technical and expressive resources. It was rendered with mesmerising intensity and unflagging energy. Bell was irresistible, expertly marrying a flawless technique with boundless expressive range, and possessing an amazing breadth of tone. Varjon matched him all the way in a scintillating partnership. A superb concert.