Bell's violin sings Mozart

July 16, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Classical Music Critic

A friend used to insist that every composition by Mozart could be reduced to a singer and an accompaniment. That the music of Mozart, the composer whose works are the centerpiece of this month's Baltimore Symphony Orchestra "Summerfest," is indeed about The singing voice was the point of Joshua Bell's magnificent performances last night in Meyerhoff Hall. With the BSO and its music director David Zinman in the opening concert of "Summerfest," the violinist performed to perfection the composer's Concerto No. 5 and two shorter works (the Adagio in E Major and the Rondo in C Major) for violin and orchestra.

Although he is only 25, Bell can play with something like preternatural maturity. These were performances that were at once passionately and intensely expressive and angelically pure. fact, one could say that Bell plays the violin with Mozartean feeling and elegance. Like my aforementioned friend, he sees Mozart's violin works as operatic, and the silvery sound he produced without ever a hint of forcing from the bow penetrated Meyerhoff like the ethereal timbre of a soprano such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

This was playing that was like singing in its very personalness. Unlike some of his colleagues, one does not customarily think of Bell as an individualistic violinist -- his music making is too utterly natural for that. But his playing has a personal stamp in his vocal approach to his instrument.

In the lovely aria that is the slow movement of the Concerto No. 5, his rhythm was absolutely secure -- one was always aware of the music's pulse -- but Bell was able to play around the beats in a way that suggested a singer rather than an instrumentalist.

Bell played his own cadenzas; like everything else this remarkable musician does, they combined elegance with Mozartean extravagance.

One of the reasons that the violinist may have felt free to play so freely was the beautifully poised and pointed accompaniment of Zinman and the orchestra. Mozart always brings out the best in this conductor, and he opened and closed the concert with the composer's two symphonies in G Minor. The Symphony No. 25 had a coursing energy that never eschewed lightness of a touch, and the popular No. 40 received a high-voltage interpretation in which expressive warmth tempered fierce urgency.

The orchestra played very well, with only some scrappy intonation in the first movement of the opening piece indicating that this was an ensemble that had not played a classical program since last month's Verdi Requiem.

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