Joshua Bell & Sam Haywood at Alice Tully Hall – Schubert, Strauss & Prokofiev

Sonatina in A minor for Violin and Piano, D385
Sonata in E flat for Violin and Piano, Op.18
Sonata in D for Violin and Piano, Op.94a

Joshua Bell (violin) & Sam Haywood (piano)

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 27 February, 2013
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) aged 16 in a drawing by L. KupelwieserIn his youth Schubert was considered to be a more accomplished violinist than pianist, yet he wrote little music for solo violin. Ferdinand Schubert published his brother’s three violin sonatas posthumously, renamed Sonatinas when Diabelli issued them in 1836. Joshua Bell had a heavy-handed approach to the one in A minor that steamrolled over the music’s subtleties. From the opening notes he brought an unrelenting intensity that seemed incongruous with the work’s delicate nature. In the opening movement, his pacing of phrasing was pleasing, yet was left with nowhere to build towards and then displayed gorgeously smooth bowing in the Andante, but did not match Sam Haywood’s light touch. The Minuet had numerous character shifts mid-phrase and became overly melodramatic and Bell’s rare pianissimo moment in the finale was lovely in nature, yet the picturesque scenery did not add up to a satisfying whole.

Joshua Bell. Photograph: Lisa Marie MazzuccoRichard Strauss’s Violin Sonata, written when he was 23, turned out to be his final piece of chamber music and has symphonic leanings and a huge emotional breadth. Bell created a cohesive narrative. His tendency to play close to the bridge, drawing a bright sound from his ‘Huberman’ Stradivarius, suits music in which there can be no such thing as too intense. He captured a range of shading in the louder sections that was absent in the Schubert. The balance between the players was flawless and Haywood shone in his own right.

David Oistrakh suggested to Prokofiev that his Flute Sonata would be more effective if re-worked for violin and assisted him with the transcription, a lyrical piece that maximizes the violin’s expressive capabilities. Bell and Haywood exaggerated the articulation in the opening Moderato, drawing out the dotted rhythmic patterns and highlighting dualities that emerge mid-phrase. Bell captured a different mood in each of the theme’s reiterations, its final appearance sweetly poignant. He took the scherzo at a moderate tempo, maintaining clarity amidst the blur of notes. The Andante was lusciously expressive, and the driving finale showcased his violin’s consistently brilliant tone. Haywood matched Bell in the passionately intense passages without overpowering him.

Bell announced the encores. In Fauré’s Après un rève, he found a dark and rich tone, particularly on the G-string. He took Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella at a breakneck tempo, yet sustained the melodic passages buried under the technical fireworks. He concluded with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Mélodie’ (from Souvenir d’un lieu cher), which he dedicated to Van Cliburn who had died that day, a warmly sentimental rendition and a fitting tribute.

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