Gramophone Editor's Choice
Reactions to this release may well depend on how listeners feel about violinist Joshua Bell's music-making in general. Bell is an heir to the violin idols of the early 20th century, and he grabs attention and doesn't let it go: his tone is startlingly brilliant, his execution flawless, his insights into the music generally well-worn ones. In the two Bach violin concertos that make up the bulk of this Sony release, that's what's here, and he is ideally partnered by the champions in the silvery-strings derby, the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, under his own direction. He holds the ensemble together with a naturalness that takes the whole enterprise beyond the old-fashioned. But there is a new wrinkle to this release: a pair of arrangements of arrangements. Most daring, and perhaps less successful, is an orchestration of Mendelssohn's version of the Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin in D minor, BWV 1004. Bell's idea seems to be that this is something his forerunners of a century ago might have done, and indeed the Mendelssohn arrangement is a work that gives insights into how he and his time experienced Bach. Adding the orchestra to it introduces another level of noise, however, and it's not at all clear that the result is to the good. The situation is similar with the little Gavotte and Rondeau twice filtered through Schumann and the same arranger as with the Mendelssohn, Julian Malone. None of this is going to bother listeners coming to this album already enamored of Bell's flashing tone, however, and it must be said that on that terrain he is in unusually good form here.