EIF 2017: Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis & Denes Varjon, Queen's Hall, Review

Edinburgh Festival review
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Edinburgh International Festival
Edinburgh International Festival
Joshua Bell (violin) Steven Isserlis (cello) Denes Varjon (piano)
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The final chamber concert in the Edinburgh International Festival Queen’s Hall series was with three outstanding musicians. The violinist Joshua Bell, artist in residence at this year’s International Festival and Music Director of St Martin in the Fields orchestra; cellist Steven Isserlis, and pianist Denes Varjon. They have played as an ensemble on numerous occasions and as a trio they blend extremely well together.

The programme was devoted to music from the Romantic period and started with Robert Schumann’s Three Romances. He was the quintessence of the Romantic genre composers and excelled in writing chamber compositions. He wrote these Three Romances in 1849 during a period when he was writing prolifically and gaining a much needed reputation. His health and marriage to Clara (a virtuoso pianist) was flourishing and he presented the manuscript to her before Christmas of that year and it was performed in the intimacy of their family home. But it was some years after his death before it received its first public performance. Although originally scored for piano and oboe it is played by other instruments including the cello.

From the first note onwards, Steven Isserlis’ playing was mesmerising. An animated performer, from his first note he demonstrated his exceptional ability to produce the most delicate tones on his cello and together with Denes Varjon’s sensitive playing they elicited all the lyricism so unique to Schumann’s music.

The concert continued with Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No 2 in C minor. In four movements, it was composed in 1845 when Mendelssohn was also achieving great fame as a composer. Bell, Isserlis and Varjon are technically brilliant and create marvellous variations of tone, so prevalent in this composition particularly in the conclusion of the third movement and into the intense finale.

Clara Schumann, a child prodigy pianist, played her debut concert at the age of eleven and included one of her own compositions. Much to her dictatorial father’s chagrin she married her love Schumann and for some time was unable to pursue her compositional skills. However, she had a burst of creative energy once her eight children were born and today we heard her three Romances for violin and piano.

Bell and Varjon frequently collaborate and as such are accustomed to interpreting the music in their own style. And what a marvellous, sensitive interpretation they performed of these lyrical pieces.

The final composition on the programme was Brahms Piano Trio No1 in B major. It was written in 1853, the year he met his idol Robert Schumann. He was only twenty when he wrote the Trio and it does sound like one of his earlier works, although he altered most of the movements thirty five years later. And you can also hear the influence of his later style when he wrote his intermezzos towards the end of his life.

No one instrument dominates this work, which sounds almost avant-garde at times with its occasional pizzicato passages, which were played superbly by Bell and Isserlis. In the pianissimo passages Bell on the violin and Isserlis on the cello elicited such tenderness and the trio’s interpretation of the fortissimo passages in the finale was thrilling. A superb performance and a memorable final chamber concert in this year’s Queen’s Hall series.