One of the biggest audiences of the classical music season gathered in Bass Hall on Monday evening to hear one of the best concerts of the season.
The Cliburn Concerts program featured two superb artists: violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Sam Haywood.
Haywood, who is British, wasn't listed in the printed program as an "accompanist," for good reason: His skill and sure musical instincts made him a full partner with Bell in a group of pieces that spotlight the piano about as much as the violin. This was an impressive collaboration that gave three masterpieces their due.
The opener was Schubert's Sonatina in A minor, a wonderful composition from a group that is played all too rarely around here. Bell's gorgeous tone and strong lyrical sense emphasized the work's melodic beauty and undoubtedly gave the audience a sample of what they had come to hear.
A few dramatic episodes added a little spice.
Richard Strauss's youthful Sonata in E-flat, Opus 18, was arguably the highest point of an evening full of musical peaks. The gentle and lyrical second movement was enchanting in Bell's hands, with sure intonation and lovely tone. Haywood made it an impressive partnership with his own skill and lyrical sense.
A muscular performance by both violinist and pianist brought the work to a forceful conclusion.
The opening moderato of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2 in D Major was beautifully done and certainly ranked as another high point of the program. The hefty program and an approaching deadline forced me, with great reluctance, to leave before the final notes of this exceptional program.
I'm told that there were three encores, one of them dedicated to the ailing Van Cliburn. Bell and Haywood visited Cliburn earlier in the day and played for him.