Joshua Bell Scores with Bruch’s Violin Concerto at the San Diego Symphony

Either by chance or some mysterious plan, world-class violinists have decided to zero in on San Diego this April. Last week, Midori played a recital at The Conrad in La Jolla, and Sunday, Joshua Bell joined the San Diego Symphony in the Jacobs Music Center in downtown San Diego. Next week, Gil Shaham will flex his musical muscles at The Conrad.

Joshua Bell [photo (c.) Bill Phelps]

Not surprisingly, Bell drew a huge crowd Sunday afternoon to hear him play Max Bruch’s First Violin Concerto in G Minor with the orchestra under the baton of Laureate Conductor Jahja Ling. Bell gave the Bruch all the power it needed to make this warhorse shake the rafters when necessary, yet he could spin tender, burnished themes that held their own in a hall that is notoriously unkind to the solo violin.

Fortunately, Bell has played Copley Symphony Hall before, and he knows how to work it. I reviewed his sparkling, persuasive Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Ling and the symphony in 2013, and last year Bell brought St. Martin in the Fields Orchestra to Copley, where he happily refreshed Henryk Weiniawski’s Second Violin Concerto.

Bruch knew how to make his listeners patiently wait for the pyrotechnics they expect in a solo concerto, and Bell projected a quiet mood of melancholic yearning at the Concerto’s opening, deftly moving into a soaring duet with Principal Horn Benjamin Jaber. When it came time for the orchestra to roar, Ling pulled out the stops and Bell accepted that invitation to flash his bravura artistry. Regardless of a theme’s dynamic level, Bell passionate drive and suave timbre captured his audience from first note to final cadence.

The Finale’s majestic theme, which Bell announced with bright, vigorous double stops, is then taken up by the orchestra in the manner of a rondo. Arguably the Concerto’s most identifiable theme, it has always struck me as the sort of flourish the belongs in a comic opera rather than a concerto. In any case, Ling pursued it zealously, bringing soloist and orchestra to a gripping, satisfying conclusion.

For his encore, Bell played with the orchestra Nigel’s Hess’s “Ladies in Lavender,” the theme from the 2004 British movie of the same name.

After receiving a particularly warm welcome from the audience, Ling opened the concert with Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to his opera Der Freischütz. Although this early Romantic opera remains popular in Germany, outside of von Weber’s homeland, only the opera’s cheerful Overture–replete with  charming, rustic solos for the horn section–finds its way into the concert hall. Kudos to Jaber and his section for producing such spirited, mellow, and well-tuned ensemble delights. Ling gave secure direction to his former charges, and they delivered the disciplined and sharply focused level of performance for which he always strove.

Because I had another concert to review on Sunday, I could not stay for the Fourth Symphony of Johannes Brahms that Ling conducted after the intermission.

This concert was presented by the San Diego Symphony in the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall on Sunday, April 14, 2019. The Jacobs Masterworks Series continues April 27 & 28, 2019, with guest conductor David Danzmayr leading works by Jean Sibelius and John Williams.

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Copley Symphony Hall
750 \”B\” St. San Diego CA 92101 Work Phone: 619.235.0804; Website: San Diego Symphony
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