Concert Review

Brahms & Mendelssohn Festival, Wigmore Hall, 18 January 2000. Fanny Mendelssohn 3 Romances, Felix Mendelssohn Quartet Op 12 and Brahms Piano Trio Op 8 (original version). Joshua Bell (violin) Steven Isserlis (cello) Alexander Lonquich (piano) and Vellinger String Quartet.

Clara Schumann was represented by some charming Romances, very much in the Schumann idiom, and the Vellinger Quartet gave a gentle, euphonious and beautifully tuned and toned performance of the early Mendelssohn Quartet in E flat major (the slightly muted feeling from seats at the back may partly have been because the hall was sold out, which does affect the acoustics).

Outstanding was the rarely played original version of Brahms' first piano trio. It is fascinating that this rarely heard work, dating from 1854, co-exists in circulation with its better known, more concise revision (amounting to recomposition) of 1889 - usually composers withdraw their earlier versions of standard works, though nowadays they are being revived with interest (e.g. the Sibelius violin concerto and 5th symphony). With such fine, and perfectly attuned, artists there was no problem with Brahms' original conception, which was absorbingly interesting right through, and had no longeurs. Joshua Bell (artistic director of this Festival) is a superb violinist for romantic music, sensitive in accompanying as well as fronting the ensemble when required, Steven Isserlis, famous solo cellist, is familiar as a consummate chamber music colleague in various ad hoc ensembles.

Of particular interest was the pianist Alexander Lonquich, new to me though boasting an impressive C.V. The piano lid was wide open, as it always should be so that the tone is not boxed in, and he had no problems with balance; a pianist can easily wreck a trio and overwhelm the cello. Lonquich's reserves of technique ensured that the most demanding passages were given with a light texture and he never forced the strings to compete against the odds. A splendid artist, responsive to all shades of emphasis in ensemble, the lynch pin for a fine collective interpretation. Well known in USA, I suspect his peripheral cultural interests inform his maturity; he directs festivals and collaborations 'between theatre, literature, music and the figurative arts'.

This Festival is worth supporting. The same artists re-appear on Thursday 20 January at 7. 30 (there may be some seats still) in Mendelssohn's Piano Trio Op 49 and pieces by Felix's sister Fanny, ending with the Brahms Sextet op 36. Recommended.

Joshua Bell has established an enviable recording reputation. His CD of Nicholas Maw's violin concerto is the Gramophone Editor's Choice of the Month (Sony Classical SK62856, 42 mins.)

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Peter Grahame Woolf

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