Joshua Bell just might be the busiest man in classical music.
Following his performance of the Sibelius violin concerto on Saturday with Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom Concert Hall, the 49-year-old superstar faced this daunting schedule over the next month, according to his website: Lincoln, Nebraska, on Tuesday, Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Thursday, then back to Southern California for two concerts next weekend.
In October he’s got most of a week in Indianapolis, Indiana, a quick trip across the pond to Monte Carlo for a one-night stand, then back to Iowa City, Iowa and Kansas City, Missouri, for back-to-back concerts. I get tired just thinking about it.
So how was the peripatetic virtuoso on Saturday? Dazzling, if a bit road-weary at times.
The Violin Concerto in D Minor, Sibelius’ only concerto of any kind, has been a staple of the concert hall for more than a century. It was written in 1904, completely revised a year later and became hugely popular. Many violin superstars, from Heifetz onward, have recorded it. Back in 2000, Bell laid down a confident, golden-toned version with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic that’s on many “favorite CD” lists.
Bell’s sound is unlike anyone else’s – confident but restrained, intense but sweet – and it’s not always a good match for the Sibelius, which has many dark, almost Eastern-sounding passages and plenty of go-for-broke bravura solo moments. The writing pushes even the most accomplished virtuosi to their limits, and Bell occasionally blurred the customarily crystalline edges of his technique.
But this concerto requires a “damn the torpedoes” attitude at times. It’s about the grandness of the gesture, and Bell delivers such roughshod moments with the requisite gusto.
The Sibelius concerto demands a lot from the orchestra, too. It’s fully symphonic in conception, busy and full even when the soloist is playing, which can create issues.
Under conductor Carl St.Clair, the orchestra was up to the task, for the most part. During a quiet moment near the end of the first movement the band overbalanced Bell for a time, and the French…