A packed, expectant house greeted starry US violinist Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields for their Sunday afternoon stop-off at the Usher Hall, and in response, they put on a beautifully crafted, energetic show. Bell has achieved something quite special since becoming the ensemble’s music director in 2011. Still there were its renowned polish and finesse, its assured, aristocratic smoothness. But under Bell they have a remarkable focus, too, and there’s an etched clarity to their playing: every gesture has direction and meaning. And it’s a joy to watch an ensemble in which every musician seems so engaged.
Music review: Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****
That sense of focus and meaning was there in an eager, propulsive Beethoven Second Symphony, which Bell directed with sweeping but eloquent gestures from the leader’s chair – its first movement, in particular, was crisply detailed but never pernickety.
Beforehand, US composer Edgar Meyer’s recent Overture for violin and orchestra was rather a polite, softly spoken offering, intricate in its rhythmic interplay but seldom demonstrative about its witty complexities. Written specially for Bell, it drew on the violinist’s agility and lyrical tone to great effect, but if it might take a few more listens for the piece to lodge in the memory.
Bell’s opener was a fresh, vibrant Four Seasons, at once fastidiously considered and joyfully supple. The Academy players attacked Vivaldi’s pictorial evocations with relish – especially delightful were John Constable’s tasteful harpsichord contributions – a confident, self-assured account from a fruitful partnership.