I heard him in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening concert on Thursday evening, at Roy Thomson Hall, and came away convinced that he’s the right man in the right place at the right time. And good for him!
The vehicle for this revelation was Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. It’s not my favourite fiddle-and-band piece, I must admit. (Doesn’t it have one too many movements?) But it demands much from a soloist – and this soloist nailed it at every turn.
My favourite movements were the second and fifth. In the second, Bell’s long melodic lines floated effortlessly in the hall. It helped that TSO music director Peter Oundjian handled his orchestra with restraint and balance. Bell and Oundjian were also very much simpatico in the last movement, which they performed with a light, agile touch.
If the Lalo was the meat in the sandwich, the bread was Berlioz’s Roman Carnival overture, which opened the program, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio espagnole, which closed it.
Under Oundjian, the Roman Carnival was suave and elegant – to a fault, at times, when dramatic moments were simply glossed over.
As for the Capriccio espagnole, it didn’t get off to a very strong start. The first half seemed diffuse and lacking in direction. But then the brass section played its fanfare at the opening of the fourth movement, the piece sprang to life – bursting with rhythm and colour. Particularly impressive were the brilliantly effervescent clarinet solos of Yao Guang Zhai.
As an encore, the TSO pulled out the “Bacchanale” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila. The energized spirit of the second half of the Capriccio proved infectious, and the “Bacchanale” rocked the house.
© Colin Eatock 2014