For this Mostly Mozart concert, Joshua Bell and Steven Isserlis teamed up with Andrew Manze to deliver a bravura outing of Brahms’s Double Concerto. While both soloists communicated rhapsodic fantasy, it was Isserlis’s more-understated playing that led the way and drew the ear throughout. In perfect synchronization, the affinity of the duo carried over to the orchestra, its radiant, precise and perfectly integrated playing emphasized the collegial, chamber-music atmosphere.
As an encore, Bell and Isserlis offered a moving rarity: the slow movement from Schumann’s late-period Violin Concerto, in the freestanding version with string orchestra prepared in 1958 by Benjamin Britten, ‘Schumann’s Elegy for Violin and Orchestra’, and added a seven-bar coda; it features interplay between violin and cello, Bell effortlessly rapturous and sensitive, while Isserlis’s mellow tone took up the orchestra’s melody.
The concert’s second half opened with Manze’s arrangement from J. S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue. In an engaging introduction, Manze related how some scholars believe this Fugue, left incomplete, was the composer’s very final piece, and that his dead body was discovered slumped over the manuscript. The legend is probably apocryphal, “but let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story”, added Manze.
This radiant and spiritual Contrapunctus is an expansive Fugue on three subjects. Manze’s skillful, string-dominant transcription proved sensitive and flowing in this refined and reverent reading, which led directly into a wonderfully vibrant account of Mendelssohn’s ‘Reformation’ Symphony given with maximum zeal – the strings sounding uncommonly virtuosic and the brass brightly gleaming throughout the mostly turbulent opening movement. After the perfectly fluid Scherzo, the Andante offered some especially ravishing contributions by the violins. The exhilarating Finale got underway with Jasmine Choi’s gorgeous flute solo introducing Martin Luther’s hymn, ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’, which in Mendelssohn’s richly harmonized treatment was riveting in this exuberant and completely satisfying performance.