Any concert hall in the world would be pleased to have just one of violinist, Joshua Bell, or cellist, Steven Isserlis, such is the worldwide appetite for their playing. To have both on stage for much of this concert was, then, a real treat – one enjoyed by a capacity Saturday-night audience.
The only issue for these two stars is that there is something of a lack of significant repertoire for solo cello, violin and orchestra. After the Brahms double concerto, played with polish by soloists and orchestra alike, some digging was obviously required to come up with suitable pieces for this line-up. The resulting programme included part of the Schumann Violin Concerto, a piano piece by Dvořák, orchestrated by the composer and, in an odd if not completely unsuccessful decision, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
This repertoire, which is not without its difficulties, was all performed without conductor. Joshua Bell gave some direction from the front, but for much of the time the musicians of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields were left to their own devices and acquitted themselves impeccably. Bell should be commended for not resting on his reputation as an international soloist and for expanding his musical horizons, having taken up the role of Artistic Director with this orchestra in 2011.
Both Bell and Isserlis are masters at making their instruments sound beautiful, which was more than enough to engage the listener in the majority of the programme. Yet, there were points when a little more bite might have not gone amiss, particularly in the Brahms. Nevertheless, the balance between soloists and orchestra was here superb.
Both musicians and audience seemed to enjoy the musical possibilities opened up in the absence of an arm-waver centre stage.