Joshua Bell, above, and Jeremy Denk, left, performed at Strathmore on Sunday. Thierry Fisher, below, conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
Joshua Bell, above, and Jeremy Denk, left, performed at Strathmore on Sunday. Thierry Fisher, below, conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. (Business Wire)
Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Joshua Bell And Jeremy Denk

Surprising turns filled the memorable sellout recital of violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk at Strathmore on Sunday evening. The two showed a like-minded drive for substance over schmaltz, going for such essentials as cleanliness, organization and energy. Rushing figures and surging swoops gave Schumann's Violin Sonata in A Minor, Op. 105, incomparable vigor, arching from restlessness to tenderness to exuberance.

In Beethoven's pastoral Violin Sonata in G, Op. 96, Bell and Denk conjured up a grand auditory illusion. The work seems another dimension from some of the composer's more agitated sonatas, including the famous "Kreutzer." Yet the duo brought out every ounce of the music's sun-dappled loveliness, while revealing its rich construction. Preparation and strong rapport made this careful balance between design and detail feel like the most natural process.

The musicians stepped onto more lighthearted terrain after intermission. Edgar Meyer's Concert Piece for Violin and Piano presented two voices initially working at cross-purposes, gradually coming together in a picturesque display. The four movements wove a tightly knit fabric of graceful folk tunes and rhythmic figuration.

The hearty German and airy American music gave way at the end to various violin transcriptions of classical songs. Bell and Denk conjured up welling sound pools in a vocalise of Rachmaninoff's and the lilting "Estrellita" by the rarely heard Mexican composer Manuel Ponce. The Introduction and Tarantella of Pablo de Sarasate closed out the concert, which was presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

Lynn Harrell

Lynn Harrell is in his early 60s, but his sovereign mastery of all things cello is undiminished. Even a phoned-in program (the length and difficulty of a standard undergraduate recital) gave full pleasure to the capacity crowd last Saturday at the Shriver Hall Concert Series in Baltimore. All the hallmarks were there; the range of tone colors wider than that of any other string player, the gregarious stage presence, the unruffled ease in virtuoso passages and the richness of detail and rhetoric.

His playing is not to everyone's taste, of course. With his highly inflected slides and ostentatiously "vocal" melodic delivery, Harrell's musicmaking has always straddled the line between "exquisite" and "cloying." Conversely, his staccato passages can sound clipped and brutal.

Still, this was a remarkable concert. In the Franck Sonata, he fussed with the line in the first movement and his rubato was not entirely unconvincing in the Recitativo. But the difficult second movement was so spectacularly played that it evoked a long burst of applause. Harrell's prodigious command of his tonal palette makes him possibly the greatest living interpreter of the Debussy D Minor Sonata, and every performance is special (and slightly different).

The artist was less satisfying in the early "Magic Flute" Variations of Beethoven, where his focus on minutiae was as makeup on a young girl. The program concluded with the warhorse Chopin Polonaise, with an additional fillip of pyrotechnics added in the coda.

The young pianist Victor Santiago Asuncion, while overly deferential in tone, often phrased differently than his boss.

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