Reviews: Bass line from bluegrass to Bartok

Music: Dvorak-Bartok Festival Wigmore Hall, London

Dvorak and Bartok aren't names you would readily couple, perhaps, yet they made an effective theme for Joshua Bell's short series of Wigmore Hall chamber concerts ending at the weekend.

Saturday night's concert introduced Edgar Meyer, a much-heralded double- bass player from America, who is also a composer and something of a cross- over artist, associated with bluegrass and other types of country, as well as classical music. These traditions were neatly combined in his String Trio No 1, which he wrote in 1986 for violin, cello and double-bass, and played on Saturday with Joshua Bell and Gary Hoffman.

Impressively, Meyer performed from memory, underlining the simple immediacy of the four movements, largely built on mesmerising pedal notes or ostinatos, and lending his cheeky solos in the third movement a sense of spontaneity that triggered a burst of impulsive applause.

Meyer has written two more trios, a string quintet with bass, and two concertos. But whatever kind of composer he is - and at least the Trio No 1 shows he can write catchy, witty music - he is clearly a player with a beautifully centred sound and impeccable technique.

The quintet we heard here was the only one by Dvorak in which he added a double-bass to a string quartet, instead of having two violas, as he did at other times, in common with Mozart and Brahms. The programme booklet described the third movement as being "haunted" by the slow movement of Schubert's great C major Quintet. So near and yet so far: it does arch itself over a leisurely pizzicato from weak to strong beat in the bass, but that's about the extent of the similarity, for Dvorak's movement is charming but far from Schubert's depth.

Yet, although Dvorak wrote the work when he was on the brink of international recognition, its outer movements are confident and full of his typically bracing, wind-in-your-hair quality. It was caught splendidly by Bell and his colleagues - Ralph de Souza, Garfield Jackson, Hoffman and Meyer.

As for Bartok, Joshua Bell and Ralph de Souza opened the programme with seven of his 44 Duos for two violins, pieces that are as satisfying as they are brief, distilling the essence of different East European or Arab folk traditions in moods ranging from sorrow to jaunty bravado.

Edgar Meyer's `Uncommon Ritual' is released on Sony Classical (SK 62891).

Adrian Jack

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