Critical Acclaim for Academy of St Martin in the Fields Winter 2020 Tour with Joshua Bell
“What’s perhaps even more fun than seeing the Paganini concerto live — or Joshua Bell live, for that matter — is watching the audience. Bell sailed through double and triple stops at lightspeed, still shaping the theme with a dulcet elegance, nailing notes with a remarkable precision and clarity in intonation. Meanwhile, around the hall, I noticed many with their hands cradling their faces. Heads turned to the side, sinking into the music. I spotted a man in the center terrace leaning forward over a railing, stretching toward Bell with both hands. Even members of the orchestra seemed amused: Players smiled and nodded while Bell ripped through his own cadenza’s pyrotechnics. He exuded an uncanny effortlessness, rocking on springy knees…One of the thrills of watching the celebrated ASMF is its hallmark lack of conductor. Although, with Music Director Bell commanding from the concertmaster’s chair, one could hardly label it leaderless. Still, it’s a fascinating example of the hive-mind telepathy of such a group. There was a delightful cohesion. The first opening bars of the Corolian Overture saw the strings capturing the same velvety warmth; there was personality in ASMF’s development of the two dramatically contrasting themes — standing in for Corolianus and his pleading wife and mother.
The program closed with Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98. “If any composition by Brahms conveys a worldview, this is it,” reads program notes by Larry Rothe. The ASMF brought out all hues through deft playing and a moderate tempo. The horns shone here, their melody opening the Andante moderato before being picked up by the other winds against delicate pizzicatos. The brass delivered a bright sonority especially in the final movement, where the delicate solos from flute and oboe were enchanting.”
San Francisco Classical Voice
“the ASMF displayed uniform bowing which provided an opportunity to match sound to sight in observing musical articulations. Bell directed with muscular vigor, limning the imitative lines and volleying between strings and woodwinds to great effect. Using Symphony Hall’s acoustic to their advantage, Bell and the ASMF executed a fantastic piano-to-forte crescendo in bringing the overture to its triumphal coda…The orchestral tutti ended, opening the scene for Bell to enter in his first statement. Bell phrased with intentional focus and contour; each of his opening statements sounded as operatic blocks, in the bel canto style of the composition. Lyrical themes emerged as especially long, elegant phrases. The ASMF accompanied with superior command of voicing, always remaining sotto voce under Bell’s prima voce — most noticeably in a beautiful moment shared between the clarinet and violin…The burnished Brahmsian sonorities of the Academy’s composite sound resulted from their expert control of voicing, texture, and dynamic contrast…The glorious woodwind and brass soloists of the ASMF must really be lauded for their execution of the second movement, Andante moderato. The strange, almost mythic opening of repeated notes with dotted rhythms in 6/8 time exhibited wonderful sensitivity to the shaping and shading of sound among the instruments which passed around the theme. The strings carried this same quality when they entered. The minimalism of Bell’s bow, acting as his baton, worked magic here.”
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
“Bell’s moderate pacing and strong leadership generated a performance of greater momentum than many larger orchestras with a conductor on the podium. The reduced number of players allowed for the wind and brass lines, often covered in plush ensemble tones, to come through with more clarity. Bell nicely encapsulated the lyricism of the Andante moderato, the undertow of lower strings clearly defined. To say that the tempo in the third movement Allegro giocoso was fast would be an understatement but it was undeniably exhilarating.
The initial brass chords of the concluding passacaglia were strong and Bell kept the tension level high. Particularly fine solo work from the first chair flute and oboe and sonorous playing from the four horns stood out in an outstanding ensemble effort with the big climaxes played for maximum impact.”
South Florida Classical Review