Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis & Dénes Várjon

Fantasiestücke, Op.88
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.49

Joshua Bell (violin), Steven Isserlis (cello) & Dénes Várjon (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 24 August, 2009
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Joshua Bell. Photograph: Bill PhelpsSteven Isserlis mentioned that Schumann’s diaries give Mendelssohn’s First Piano Trio as a direct catalyst for the composition of his Fantastiestücke, poetic utterances that were here given vividly pictorial performances by Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis and Dénes Várjon.

This starry trio of soloists came together as a tight-knit and sharing chamber ensemble, Várjon, in particular, remarkably sensitive in his use of dynamics and pedalling, so that throughout the Schumann every nuance was detectable. The second of the pieces, ‘Humoreske’, was a delight, the cheeky four-note motif passed round the instruments with evident enjoyment, and its middle section given a rustic feel. The sombre first and third pieces brought introspection.

Dénes VárjonGiven that Mendelssohn makes some exceptional demands, the performance of his D minor Piano Trio was more demonstrative. Once again Várjon was equal to these, but in a thoroughly musical way, so that the challenging scherzo was perfectly flighted, the melodies constantly on-the-wing. The Andante was graceful and restful, with poignant interplay between Bell and Isserlis, their musical rapport self-evident.

In the stormy outer movements there was a terrific sense of drama, Isserlis introducing the main theme of the first movement with poise and restraint so that when the climactic points were reached, the textures could develop to something quasi-orchestral. The finale raced and there was remarkable definition in the interplay of melodies, Mendelssohn deceiving expectations with frequent shifts between major and minor keys.

As a generous encore the musicians played more Mendelssohn, a gently lyrical account of the slow movement from the ‘other’ Piano Trio (Opus 66).

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