Review: Sunday Classics - Academy of St Martin in the Fields

LUCKY Edinburgh to have had two excellent concerts in four days, first from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and then, as part of the Usher Hall's Sunday Classics, that celebrated ensemble the players of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, under the inspired direction of virtuosi violinist Joshua Bell, playing his 1713 Stradivarius.

Usher Hall
Usher Hall

USHER HALL, London Road

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The programme began with one of the two surviving published solo violin concertos left by Johann Sebastian Bach, which for those of us fortunate to have been at the earlier concert (Baroque Dances with Maxim Emelyanychev) was a seamless transfer. An ideal opening to any concert, this was the perfect introduction to this world famous chamber orchestra's sinuous skills, led by the charismatic Joshua Bell, who displayed the elasticity of a musical John Cleese as he directed with bow and body, including at one point it seemed his foot.

The first half of this fascinating programme ended with Gustav Mahler's arrangement for string orchestra of Schubert's String Quarter, Death and the Maiden. A sombre work at the best of times, that reflected poor Schubert's last few tortured but creative years, Mahler's transcription brilliantly transferred the tender and tragic elements of perhaps the most famous of the dozen string quartets Schubert wrote in five years.

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    The Academy of St Martin in the Field, although with numbers less than a third of those demanded by Mahler, rose to the occasion in a thrilling performance greeted with thoroughly deserved tumultuous applause from a packed concert hall.

    The second half opened with the familiar, Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto, and concluded, adventurously, with the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla's Cuatro Estaciones Portenas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, loosely inspired by Vivaldi). A new experience, I suspect, for most of the appreciative audience, this concluded another spell-binding musical afternoon.