The Bell of the hall

Joshua Bell assembled stars of chamber music for a magnificent evening.
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The Independent Culture
Assembling an outstanding group of chamber musical names for his short Mozart / Tchaikovsky Festival at the Wigmore Hall this week, violinist Joshua Bell has managed to sell out all four recitals in the series and, to judge by the splendid second and third programmes, no ticket holders will have been disappointed. There was hardly a blemish in either concert, whether in the playing of the Orion Quartet, currently holding a residency at New York's Lincoln Center, or in the duos and trios that completed the programmes.

Chief protagonists were Bell himself and cellist Steven Isserlis, renowned concerto soloists both, but also supreme chamber players, and hence able to take off with an individualistic and creative turn of phrase while remaining fully responsive to their colleagues' interpretative initiatives. Teaming up with pianist Yefim Bronfman, a boldly colourful instrumentalist with a sense of the daring and the dramatic, they brought the second concert to a magnificent climax with Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio.

Not one of the master's greatest works, perhaps, but when performed as magisterially and passionately as it was here, a deeply touching document in spite of its weakness for regular two- and four-bar phrases. The vast set of variations that closes the piece was superbly characterised, creating a unity out of Tchaikovsky's discursive invention, and when the final triumph to which this tribute on the death of Nikolai Rubinstein seems to be leading dissolves into a brief funeral march, the heart was chilled. Earlier they had given a rare performance of Rachmaninov's Trio Elegiaque, responding with no less commitment to the melancholic charm and passionate sincerity of this young man's music.

The Orion Quartet's contribution to the programme was a fine reading of Mozart's E Flat K 428, and in the later concert they brought an engaging freshness to Tchaikovsky's first essay in the genre, discovering the famous "Andante Cantabile" for us as if it had been composed only yesterday, and generating a springing rhythmic impetus throughout the rest of this disarming and elegantly textured work.

The highlight of the evening, nevertheless, was a terrific performance of Mozart's Divertimento K 563 for string trio, in which Messrs Bell and Isserlis were joined by the viola player Paul Neubauer. It is a matter of deep regret that the logistics of chamber music playing prevent us from hearing this great work more often than we do. Establishing a genre, pointing the way to the late Beethoven quartets, it is a chamber music milestone, and on this occasion its contrapuntal ingenuities, breadth of emotion, now shadowed, now earthy in its humour, were superbly encompassed. The astonishing invention of the final Rondo, where an insouciant repetitiveness is outrageously destabilised by contrapuntal science and disruptive strumming, crowned an outstanding evening's music making.

Final concert: 7.30 tonight, Wigmore Hall, London W1 (0171-935 2141)

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