Joshua Bell plays Brahms with great force and much sweetness

By Truman C. Wang

Violinist Joshua Bell’s musical and physical dynamism was again in evidence last night at the sold-out Disney Hall.  The boyish 49-year-old played the Brahms D-Major Violin Concerto with his customary sweet tones and the hyper-kinetic physicality of a seasoned video-gamer.   Musically, Joshua Bell's playing was colorful, though not particularly insightful or deep like, say, that of Hilary Hahn or Vadim Repin.   The first movement felt like one big headlong rush to the showy cadenza where Mr. Bell eschewed the traditional Joachim cadenza for his own version and did so brilliantly.   Equally brilliant was Marion Arthur Kuszyk's oboe solo in the Adagio.  Watching Mr. Bell in performance is as much a feast to the ear as it is to the eye -- arms flailing, punching, jabbing; the body flexing back and forth, to and fro, while the Strad remained miraculously suspended in mid-air singing its sweet tunes, oblivious to all the physical histrionics and calisthenics around it.  To some, all this might seem unnecessarily distracting from the music at hand.  To others, this was what they had paid to see (whether they had heard the actual music was another matter) and these 'Joshua groupies' left promptly at intermission along with their idol.  

So, we returned from the intermission to a smaller audience and two shorter works by Richard Strauss.  Don Juan was loud and utterly lacking in charm in the all-important oboe melody.  Conductor Gustavo Dudamel regrouped for Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks and this time gave a winning reading filled with humor, bombast and colorful virtuoso turns from the orchestra.   

If no mention has been made on the new work in the program, Matthias Pintscher’s very loud, cacophonous and head-splitting Towards Osiris, it is because, as these new compositions of Classical music go, it belonged in an academic lecture hall/MIT music lab rather than a concert hall. 

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.