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MUSIC REVIEW

Bell a match for Brits' talent

November 18, 2002|Daniel Cariaga | Times Staff Writer

This season, the British ensemble the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is sending out three touring groups. The United States edition reached the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday night with American violinist Joshua Bell at the helm.

Bell's gifts and achievement certainly match those of the English players. His fastidious and elegant playing is on the same wavelength, and his effortless, glowing tone is mirrored in their strong accomplishment.

Their joint program offering two concertos with Bell as conducting soloist, and Mahler's transcription for string orchestra of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, balanced careful and articulate playing with contained dramatic contrasts. A full house greeted these performances enthusiastically.

Leading from the first desk of violins, Bell the conductor kept a low profile, barely signaling. Yet the ensemble's playing emerged passionate and tautly controlled, all the low and high points in Schubert's massive canvas clearly delineated and realized.

As soloist, Bell never grandstanded, keeping his attention on eloquent music-making. Bach's familiar A-minor Concerto began a bit quickly, and perfunctorily, but soon settled into an expressive dialogue between solo and orchestra. Haydn's wondrous Violin Concerto No. 1 in C sang forth with authority and a contagious bounce. Throughout, the small string orchestra resounded splendidly, living up to its long reputation.

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