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CD Review

John Corigliano

  • Concerto for Violin & Orchestra "The Red Violin"
  • Sonata for Violin & Piano
Joshua Bell, violin
Jeremy Denk, piano
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Sony Classical 82876-88060-2
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When 2014 started, I had never heard this concerto. Now I own two excellent versions. There is a very fine reading on Naxos that is also worthy of your attention. This disc, dating from way back in 2007, is not only marginally finer, but it is also one of superstar Joshua Bell's finest albums. John Corigliano is a composer of real talent, and even listeners who don't normally gravitate to "modern" music will enjoy this tremendously.

The show is Bell's. I've previously written about my lukewarm feelings about him, though I can't deny his talent and ability to rise to the occasion. On disc, he's somewhat of an enigma; he tackled the "big" Romantic masterpieces early and often, but continues to wait on Classical and Baroque standards. In between, he recorded some odd things for Sony. He's since taken up the conductors chair, in that he leads the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields from the first violin. His Beethoven was good, his Bach concertos were awesome and saddled with some…interesting arrangements. This album comes from Bell's odd period, but happily finds the violinist on absolutely riveting form. Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony have always done Americana well (both together and separately, and everyone gives their very best.

None of this would matter one bit if the music wasn't outstanding, but it is. Corigliano has written us a concerto that draws from his film score for The Red Violin, which is also a very fine achievement. The composer is distinctive without ever losing his audience. This is clearly very modern, but Corigliano steadfastly avoids pretention and mannerism by staying true to both his language and his target crowd. The opening Chaconne started as a solo piece, and seamlessly integrates into the final work. Good thing, too, because the rest is similarly intriguing. In particular, listeners will likely be fascinated by the diversity of instrumental colors and the varied moods on display. I certainly was. The third movement Andante is as beautiful as they come, and the Accelerando Finale is a stunner that shows Bell to be worthy of all the hype.

The Sonata for Violin and Piano is less accessible from a listening standpoint, but only just. Again, Bell is absolutely in command, and Jeremy Denk is more than mere partner. Both artists are so clearly having a good time that their love of the music radiates in every bar. Sony had a good day, too. Everything is captured in wonderful, clear sound. Listeners who are wary of new music will be delighted to hear this still-young artist in his prime, and may find themselves more than happy with the music at hand.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman