A fanfare is usually a rousing affair. Not so with John Adams’s enigmatic Tromba Lontana. As the ‘Distant Trumpet’ title suggests, this short work never rises above mezzo piano and features two of the named instruments, antiphonally placed at the back of the stage, intoning softly persistent calls, while the orchestra provides an undulating continuum of slowly-evolving figures on piano, harp and percussion. Louis Langrée led a graceful rendition, with Neil Balm and Lee Soper’s gentle trumpets making the most of their delicate conversation.
Joshua Bell was in splendid form for Max Bruch’s G-minor Violin Concerto, delivering a magnificent, totally involving account combining power and warmth, garnished with his silken tone and rapturous phrasing. The opening movement was exceptionally strong and purposeful, the Adagio passionately lyrical, and the Finale marked by abundant energy and sparkle. Langrée provided admirable, sympathetic support. While the tuttis were full of fire and spirit, Langrée scaled down the accompaniment in the lyrical passages to match Bell’s compelling and deeply-felt playing, and Lawrence DiBello brought beautiful tone to the radiant passages in which a horn complements the violin. Bell offered an encore: an impressive and elaborate excerpt from John Corigliano’s score for the film The Red Violin, played a cappella and ending with a great flourish.
There were some impressive and pleasant moments in Brahms’s Second Symphony. The opening movement (without exposition repeat) displayed notably brilliant effects from horns and trombones, as well as some enchanting sounds from Jasmine Choi’s pure-toned flute. There was also a lovely blend of timbres in the slow movement, if also imbued with an unattractive heaviness, and a blazing and brassy delivery of the exultant Finale. But overall the desired fervor and essential grandeur of expression were not always in evidence in what was fundamentally a disappointing performance.