Classical review: Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Usher Hall

Academy of St Martin in the Fields were a popular act in the Usher Hall Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Academy of St Martin in the Fields were a popular act in the Usher Hall Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THE enormous ticket queue snaking across the front of the Usher Hall testified to the fact that two starry musicians were in town (either that, or a last-minute influx of ticket collectors that left the box office struggling).

Academy of St Martin in the Fields | Rating: **** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis, there to perform with London’s Academy of St Martin in the Fields, do have a remarkable musical partnership, both entirely at ease in each other’s company, offering calm, assured, thoughtful, glowingly lyrical playing.

Bell made his name as a violin soloist, but has been music director of the ASMF since 2011, directing from the fiddle with a few judicious nods and sweeps of his bow. His Beethoven Eighth Symphony had all the ASMF’s trademark smoothness and nobility, but Bell also injected a bracing freshness that played up the work’s sly humour to delicious effect.

Isserlis had opened with an exquisite Dvorák Waldesruhe, each phrase lovingly caressed by orchestra and soloist alike, and Bell gave an equally beautiful account of the second movement of Schumann’s Violin Concerto, transformed into a stand-alone Langsam by Benjamin Britten.

But the work that should have really shown off the two soloists’ sublime talents – Brahms’s Double Concerto – seemed a bit of an anticlimax. Delivered with passion and drama, it nevertheless felt a bit, well, quiet, almost as if everyone was playing with their mutes on, not helped by the modest size of the ASMF compared to the full symphony orchestra the Concerto was written for. It was a strangely muted end to an afternoon of gloriously accomplished music making.