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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Violin Concerto #1 in A minor, BWV 1041
  • Violin Concerto #2 in E Major, BWV 1042
  • Partita #2 in D minor, BWV 1004 "Chaconne"
  • Air from Orchestral Suite #3 in D Major, BWV 1068
  • Gavotte en Rondeau from Partita #3 in E Major, BWV 1006
Joshua Bell, violin
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Joshua Bell
Sony Classical 8843-08779-2
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Joshua Bell's tempos in the outer movements of the concertos are very brisk here. Very. I made comparisons with some other performances, both recent and in the distant past, and found none quite as fast. While Bell makes an excellent case for his fleet approach, he does sacrifice a measure of smoothness in the linear flow of the music. Indeed, there are a few patches where his playing comes across as a bit curt. But those moments are rare and generally he's quite virtuosic and mostly breathtaking in the faster music. The slow middle movements are phrased sensitively, and his Academy of St. Martin in the Fields plays with spirit and accuracy in both works. Overall Bell compares favorably with other violinists in the concertos, and many of them will actually sound relatively sedate alongside him.

The Chaconne here is the arrangement Mendelssohn made for violin and piano. However, this version features an orchestration of that arrangement by Julian Milone. Thus, we have a sort of new Bach work via an arrangement of an arrangement. In any event, the results are quite attractive, especially in the interpretation fashioned by Bell: this is a piece of many moods and Bell captures the heart of Bach's expressive palette brilliantly, infusing his thoughtful poetic manner with passion, often a fiery passion that is always fully convincing. Again, his tempos are very brisk but in no way excessive.

The Air gets a lovely, rather mesmerizing performance from Bell and his orchestra. The Gavotte en Rondeau is another case of an arrangement of an arrangement. In this instance it's Schumann's arrangement for piano that is orchestrated by Julian Milone. It's a short (2:49) and charming light piece that gets a sparkling performance from Bell and company. Sony's sound reproduction is powerful and clear in all works. The album notes by Bell are very informative and offer many valuable insights. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings