Guest conductor Bernhard Gueller led the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra in a very gratifying interpretation of Beethoven’s Overture: Leonore No. 3, written for his only opera, Fidelio. The rounded flowing melodies between the striking chords of the introduction became achingly light as the flutes took the lead from the strings. Poignant brass harmonies infiltrated the themes, increasing as the music progressed until the strings – with interplay between the woodwinds – were thrashing out the descending scale runs. It was a wonderfully characteristic Beethoven sound, ebbing and flowing to a final climax of joyous grandeur.
This was followed by the sonic representation of cheery youthful liveliness in the Italian countryside – Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 – before the moment everyone was waiting for arrived when Joshua Bell stepped on stage.
With his 1713 Stradivarius in hand, Bell stood to attention before Gueller plunged the CPO into Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. In a whimsical and light orchestration, each theme was introduced before building up virtuosity with every measure. Bell’s tone – full and warm with impeccable intonation – rang out into the auditorium as he dug into each passage. His superb mastery of harmonics and his virtuosic dexterity over the strings were particularly evident at the cadenza, after which the slower second movement created a lush atmosphere in which Tchaikovsky’s melodic genius could come to the fore.
Under Gueller’s baton, the orchestra remained well balanced and centred, allowing Bell to float above the musical cloud of sonic brilliance. The third movement roared into life with dance-like themes and denser orchestration. Bell sliced through each theme like a hot knife through butter, his hand flying over the fingerboard. Call-and-response passages between Bell and the orchestra heightened the energy until the work came to an exciting close, the audience leaping to its feet in a long and hearty standing ovation.
One does not always get a chance to witness a Grammy-Award-winning master instrumentalist on stage, yet this is the second time Joshua Bell has visited Cape Town in three years. We certainly hope it will not be the last.
Gareth Harvey is a performing saxophonist and music solutions manager at Octave Leap Music.
Joshua Bell performed with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra under Bernard Gueller at Cape Town City Hall on 26 August 2015. He is due to perform at Cape Town City Hall again tonight, 27 August, and then in Johannesburg on 2,3, 5 and 6 September, before returning to the Western Cape for a performance at Endler Hall on 7 September 2015.