Stories » Joshua Bell w/Houston Symphony, navigate Beethoven's technical mastery and various moods / Houston Chronicle

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Joshua Bell w/Houston Symphony, navigate Beethoven's technical mastery and various moods / Houston Chronicle

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Historically, happy Beethoven has not amounted to popular Beethoven. Joshua Bell and the Houston Symphony hardly let that stop them this weekend. To say the least, the world's most famous composer is not remembered for his sunny disposition. But in 1806, he had ample reason to smile: That summer he completed a new symphony that his patron, one Prince Lichnowsky, had commissioned well in advance; and his long-gestating violin concerto in honor of his old friend, the Viennese virtuoso Franz Clement, came to fruition just days before its premiere that December.

Taken together, the two pieces radiate a charming lightheartedness that more than makes up for whatever they may lack in the drama of the composer's better-known works. Both are blessed with some of Beethoven's most pristine melodies, which shine perhaps even brighter today because they have not been completely co-opted by pop culture.

Bell, now 51, may be well past his prodigy years, but his dexterity navigating the Violin Concerto easily matched his boyish countenance. The piece is demanding enough to be a proper platform for a high-level soloist's technique but also expressive enough to be emotional; here, the Indiana native's prowess on his 1713 Huberman Stradivarius lay as much in his close interpretation of Beethoven's various moods as his technical mastery of the specific notes.

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