Bell and Haywood show estimable teamwork for Celebrity Series

November 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Joshua Bell and Sam Haywood performed Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall for the Celebrity Series of Boston.

Chamber music, as the old saying goes, is like a conversation between friends, and Beethoven’s violin sonatas make for particularly reflective and intimate dialogue.

The composer’s last violin sonata made for a charming and engaging exchange between Joshua Bell and pianist Sam Haywood, who offered the work as part of a wide-ranging program Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall.

The violinist teamed up with Haywood four years ago just as the career of his former accompanist, Jeremy Denk, began its meteoric rise. Since then, Bell and Haywood have toured extensively, and in their performance Sunday, displayed a suitable, even natural partnership.

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 in G major, Op. 96, a favorite of Bell’s, is marked more for its Mozartean lyricism and delicacy than technical spark. The duo traded the outer movements’ trickling cascades and wisps of melody with aplomb. Soft passages remained plump thanks to Haywood’s pristine and almost fruity tone. His block chords, though, didn’t always complement Bell’s weighty accents in the finale.

That wasn’t the case with the second movement, where the two explored the music’s more probing, Beethovenian depths. The chorale-like theme unfolded in earthy passages in Haywood’s hands. Bell answered with long notes that bristled with sustained intensity. The violinist, too, even pulled lyricism from the lilting Scherzo, his tone singing in the movement’s stratospheric heights.

The afternoon fireworks came in the recital’s opener, Giuseppe Tartini’s Violin Sonata in G minor, “The Devil’s Trill.” The story behind the piece, as relayed by a French astronomer and writer, tells of the Devil, on violin, barraging the dreaming composer with a breath-taking display of virtuosity. The second movement featured Bell in furious cascades of notes, which he unleashed with seemingly effortless polish. In the extended finale, Bell moved between wistful, dreamy passages and sudden burst of double stops and trills, playing each with mesmerizing focus.

But there are also moments of repose in the sonata. The unraveling lines of the opening Larghetto beamed from the warm, velvety tone and richly resonant double-stop harmonies from Bell’s 1713 Huberman Stradivarius. Haywood rolled out the twinkling piano accompaniment with sensitivity. Together, Bell and Haywood fluently pressed and stretched their phrases as if able to finish each other’s sentences.

Sumptuous melodic sweeps soared from Bell’s violin in the Pas de deux of Stravinsky’s Divertimento for violin and piano, which the duo offered after intermission. Based on Stravinsky’s ballet music from The Fairy’s Kiss, the Divertimento bridges two musical worlds. The score is built upon several of Tchaikovsky’s songs and small piano works, yet Stravinsky’s characteristic clamor and wit is ever present.

Bell and Haywood saved their most thunderous playing of the afternoon for the work’s long churning stretches. The Swiss dances grinded appropriately with edgy, squeeze-box tone. The Scherzo frolicked with the musicians’ crisp rendering of the sprightly rhythms.

The frayed hair dangling from Bell’s bow didn’t faze the two encores. The first, Tchaikovsky’s Mélodie from Souvenir d’un lieu cher, featured the violinist in some of his most tender playing of the afternoon. Even the barn-burning riffs of the second, Henryk Wieniawsky’s Polonaise brillante No. 1, managed to sing beautifully.

For the next Celebrity Series concert, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin will perform works by Medtner and Schubert along with his own Barcarolle in its U.S. premiere 3 p.m. December 8 at Jordan Hall.; 617-482-2595

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