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Chamber Music - Released January 6, 2012 | Sony Classical

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or de l'année - Diapason d'or - 4 étoiles Classica
French Impressions, Joshua Bell's 2012 release on Sony, presents three great violin sonatas, prime examples of French chamber music that have been cherished for their emotional power and nostalgic coloration. Indeed, the Violin Sonata in D minor of Camille Saint-Saëns and the Violin Sonata in A major of César Franck are so significant in French culture and evocative of their time, they are thought by literary scholars to have served as inspiration for the fictional Vinteuil Sonata in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. With Maurice Ravel's Violin Sonata reflecting a more modern and playful approach to the genre, the program explores the warm sonorities and subtle moods of French music, as channeled through the classical sonata form, and the refined expression of all three works is lovingly handled by Bell and his accompanist, Jeremy Denk. Bell's playing ranges from gossamer fine lines to thickly resinous attacks, and his command of the violin's timbres reveals the rich possibilities to be found in these pieces. For his part, Denk provides flexible and understated support, with a piano part that ranges from robust activity where needed to atmospheric delicacy. Sony's sound is clear and focused and gives the violin central placement, so all the shades of expression and dynamics are easily heard above the piano. © TiVo
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Violin Concertos - Released June 22, 2018 | Sony Classical

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
While Max Bruch's First Concerto was recorded, re-recorded and over-recorded to the nth degree, we can't say the same of Bruch's very elegant Scottish Fantasy Enter Joshua Bell, the new artistic director of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, both playing the violin and heading up an ensemble to offer us both the Concerto – which he had recorded about thirty years ago with Marriner – and the Fantasy, a discographic first for him. This Fantasy, written in 1880 after the Second Concerto, was Sarasate but first performed by Joachim. The composer weaves it together from an infinitely elegant tissue of themes, and melodic impressions of Scotland, real or imagined. Joshua Bell, of Scottish descent himself, swims like a wild salmon through the clear waters of lochs and highland torrents, while the orchestra, clearly rapt, offers him a beautiful foil. © SM/Qobuz
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Concertos - Released September 29, 2014 | Sony Classical

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 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. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 30, 2016 | Sony Classical

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Heartland American violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis have known each other for many years and have often performed together. This release, spearheaded by Bell in his post as music director of the venerable Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, is a bit unwieldy, but has moments that make it worth the time and money of Bell fans especially. The three works, loosely linked by the concept described in the title, have their background abundantly described by Isserlis in the booklet. The Double Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, Op. 102, is conducted by Bell from the violin. There are moments that show his star quality, contrasting nicely with the detailed, concentrated approach of Isserlis, and the relatively small size of the Academy probably approximates the way Brahms imagined the work. There are smoother versions of this curiously restrained, deliberate work, however. In the slow movement of the Schumann Violin Concerto in D minor, WoO 23, Isserlis takes an orchestral cello line as a solo for no very good reason. The album finishes strongly, however, with the original 1854 version of the Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, which Brahms reworked in 1889 but did not, as Isserlis points out, discard (and he discarded plenty of other music). It's a passionate, tumultuous work of Brahms' youth, and Isserlis and Bell come together with pianist Jeremy Denk to make the best possible case for it. Sample the "Scherzo" with its daring rhythmic shift to waltz, and hear Bell's way with the expressive violin parts of the outer movements, and you'll come to understand Brahms' ambivalent attitude toward this early work. The 1854 version of the work is less often recorded than the 1889 reworking, and a fine, stirring performance of it is reason enough to pay the admission price here. © TiVo
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Symphonic Music - Released March 18, 2013 | Sony Classical

Distinctions 5 de Diapason
Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields present two of Ludwig van Beethoven's most graceful and buoyant symphonies for this Sony release and play them with a lightness and freshness that many listeners will welcome. Bell makes his recording debut as a conductor with this 2013 CD, and his adoption of historically informed practices ensures that the music has clean textures and brisk tempos, qualities long associated with the Academy's tradition of playing Beethoven in the spirit of the Classical era. Once past the solemn Adagio introduction, the Symphony No. 4 in B flat major is effervescent and unrestrained in its cheerfulness, and Bell's light touch and the orchestra's deft execution make this one of the most charming interpretations available. This work is paired with the exuberant Symphony No. 7 in A major, which corresponds with its joyous dance rhythms and transparent orchestration, and balances the program with its similar formal proportions and length. Both performances offer closely considered interpretations, showing that Bell is particularly concerned with crisp articulation and subtly graded dynamics, and his attention to details brings out many inner parts that are sometimes lost in thicker sounding conventional readings. But these are far from myopic readings, because Bell has an innate feeling for phrasing and trajectory, so the larger expressions are fully communicated. Sony's reproduction is transparent and vibrant, and the music was captured with close-up clarity and warmth. © TiVo
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Classical - Released October 6, 1999 | Sony Classical

Distinctions Mercury Prize Selection
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Classical - Released August 14, 2020 | Sony Classical

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This release appeared in mid-2020 as the coronavirus epidemic dragged on, and home music-making began to ramp up for even the biggest stars. It would have been guaranteed a strong listenership in any event, for violinist Joshua Bell made the recording for a special broadcast on the U.S. PBS network, and these are clear indicators of commercial success. However, it would likely succeed purely on its own merits. The album offers Bell in a relaxed mood, playing 19th century showpieces and encores that he knows well, with friends (including, unusually, Beethoven specialist Jeremy Denk on piano) dropping in for duets, including a West Side Story medley to close by soprano Larisa Martinez. Her singing fits the intimate mood, and the whole program offers an excellent example of Bell's specialty: the old-fashioned virtuoso recital brought up to date with a few modern touches (Broadway musicals instead of Viennese popular tunes). He can do the likes of Wieniawski's Polonaise de Concert, Op. 4, in his sleep, which in this setting results not in boredom but in a program that invites one and all to enjoy. The result is a Joshua Bell album that could serve very well as an introduction to his art. © TiVo
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Classical - Released October 28, 2003 | Sony Classical

This CD from the young American violin phenomenon Joshua Bell will fill the bill for background music in restaurants with a lot of velour, and it might be nice for the car CD player on a late-night cruise along the shore. For others, however, it may be a bit of a bore. The disc offers 50-plus minutes of sheer melody, all of it in nearly the same moderate tempo. Despite its name, most of the music on this release is arranged for violin and orchestra from vocal or keyboard pieces; there is one cello work, the "Swan" section of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, and the closest thing to original violin music is the Nocturne movement from Borodin's String Quartet No. 2. There are several operatic melodies ("O mio babbino caro," "Casta diva," and, more surprisingly, "Pur ti miro" from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea), and some short piano tunes. Romance of the Violin is essentially a classical greatest-hits collection, one of many available, and more expensive than most at a hefty $18.98 list. The orchestral arrangements are by pop producer Craig Leon, and though they're precisely rendered by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in the finest sound Sony has to offer, they have a very familiar kind of sameness. Romance needn't be, shouldn't be, so monochrome, and this is a lateral move at best for Bell, who has shown great promise as the player who might bridge the gap between classical music's traditional listenership and its new crossover audiences. © TiVo
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Concertos - Released September 5, 2008 | Sony Classical

When the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields began to popularize Vivaldi's music in the 1970s, it was on the cutting edge with its light, warm chamber orchestra sound, burnished to technical perfection yet sounding completely different from its symphonic cousins. Now, a recording like this one, with star violinist Joshua Bell, sounds conservative in comparison with young bucks like Fabio Biondi on the historical-performance side or even the young Dutch firebrand Janine Jansen. This big-budget (by classical standards) release is the kind of thing you don't see so often now, with a big poster showing Bell carefully decked out in a partially undone tie, as well as individual full-color cards reproducing, in Italian and English, the descriptive seasonal sonnets that provide the program for the four concertos. It could have collapsed under its own weight, but Bell pulls it off. Conducting the Academy strings himself, he forges tight, not-overly-sweet recordings of Vivaldi's four familiar concertos, with a nice contrast between orchestra and solo that showcases his easy, compelling agility and his Heifetz-like sharpness and brilliance. There's nothing fancy about the recording, which resembles in its basic outlines many of those released by mainstream chamber orchestras a couple of decades ago, but it's just extraordinarily carefully and sharply done, with slight broadenings of tempo at the ends of intricate phrases to give Bell space to show his stuff. The programmatic drama of the music is never shortchanged, but never overdone. In a way, with every performer feeling that he or she has to say something new about the Four Seasons, it's nice to find one who is confident enough not to have to do that. In fact, the one moment where the mood is broken comes when Bell does attempt something unorthodox: the slow movment of the "Winter" concerto (track 11), which he takes a good deal faster than Largo and articulates the cadences in a fussy way. The recording is rounded out by Tartini's Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo ("The Devil's Trill"), which has the effect of a release into the realm of spectacular display after the taut beauty of the Vivaldi. It's a recording worthy of Bell's star quality, a fine Four Seasons for those not ready to take the plunge into historical performance, and an impressive feat of (mostly) studio engineering. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 15, 2006 | Sony Classical

Following his 2003 crossover smash Romance of the Violin, wunderkind Joshua Bell and his sonically awesome 1713 Stradivarius (he clutches it closely like a nervous lover in the back cover photo, seemingly afraid it will desert him) pursues a related project with Voice of the Violin. Whereas Romance of the Violin drew on pieces originally written in a variety of media, Voice of the Violin shows Bell's ability to make his instrument "sing" in vocal pieces. As with the earlier album, Bell goes for a specific type of piece -- slow or moderate in tempo, with a passionate, wide-ranging melody that allows him to show off his rich, spacious sound on both the violin's bottom and top strings. There are orchestral and keyboard-accompanied songs, operatic arias, Rachmaninov's Vocalise, and sacred pieces, all but one heard here in new orchestral arrangements. Many of these are by film composer J.A.C. Redford, and they have a film-music quality -- they combine sentiment with a certain background-music feel, with low contrast from piece to piece. Bell doesn't program any fiery, fast-tempo music, generating variety instead through slow rises in intensity that culminate in a luscious performance of Debussy's song Beau soir (Beautiful Evening) accompanied by piano on track 11, and in the introduction of an actual voice, that of operatic soprano Anna Netrebko, on Richard Strauss' Morgen! (Tomorrow!), the final track. Bell alludes to the example of Heifetz and other violin stars who frequently performed arrangements, but Heifetz would never have played a program as homogeneous as this one. Bell appeals to a desire for surface sensuousness alone. But he executes his plan well, and anyone in need of a demonstration of his formidable talent should check out track 6, the "Laudate Dominum" aria from Mozart's Vesperae de Confessore, K. 339. This long, slow-unfolding melody is a challenge for singers in its vocal version; generating the breath to support it all the way through is quite a task. The high, quiet entrances and the subtle dynamics challenge the violinist equally severely, but Bell's performance is a model of control and resultant tranquility. For the car, for the commute, even for the romantic encounter, this disc has its uses. Those who would prefer to hear Bell in mainstream repertory may find it a bit limited in variety, but this rising megastar has certainly pulled off another flawless performance. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2005 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

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Classical - Released January 1, 1996 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

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Classical - Released February 29, 2008 | Sony Classical

Existing fans of violinist Joshua Bell are already well-acquainted with the broad scope of repertoire and performance abilities ranging deftly from the classical concerto repertoire to his well-known collaborations with Edgar Meyer. For those unfamiliar with Bell's recorded works, this two-disc set of The Essential Joshua Bell provides quite a comprehensive overview of his wide-ranging talents. Of course, it could also be argued that if one movement of a concerto is "essential," so too should be the rest of the movements. Some of the single-movement works on the album, such as the Paganini variations or the Sarasate "Introduction and Tarantella," work well on compilation albums such as this because they don't leave the listener with an incomplete picture of what the composer had intended. With larger works such as the concertos of Goldmark, Mendelssohn, or Beethoven, hearing only single movements doesn't do full justice to either the composer nor to Bell's performances. This anthology also surprisingly lacks Bell's recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto, perhaps one of his most energetic and innovative performances of a standard repertoire concerto. So if you're really not sure if you like Bell's playing or his choice of repertoire, this is certainly an enjoyable introduction. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and invest in the complete albums from which this collection was made. © Mike D. Brownell /TiVo
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Classical - Released February 29, 2008 | Sony Classical

Existing fans of violinist Joshua Bell are already well-acquainted with the broad scope of repertoire and performance abilities ranging deftly from the classical concerto repertoire to his well-known collaborations with Edgar Meyer. For those unfamiliar with Bell's recorded works, this two-disc set of The Essential Joshua Bell provides quite a comprehensive overview of his wide-ranging talents. Of course, it could also be argued that if one movement of a concerto is "essential," so too should be the rest of the movements. Some of the single-movement works on the album, such as the Paganini variations or the Sarasate "Introduction and Tarantella," work well on compilation albums such as this because they don't leave the listener with an incomplete picture of what the composer had intended. With larger works such as the concertos of Goldmark, Mendelssohn, or Beethoven, hearing only single movements doesn't do full justice to either the composer nor to Bell's performances. This anthology also surprisingly lacks Bell's recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto, perhaps one of his most energetic and innovative performances of a standard repertoire concerto. So if you're really not sure if you like Bell's playing or his choice of repertoire, this is certainly an enjoyable introduction. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and invest in the complete albums from which this collection was made. © Mike D. Brownell /TiVo
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Film Soundtracks - Released November 8, 2004 | Sony Classical

Ladies in Lavender, actor Charles Dance's debut as a film director, has been out for some time overseas, but was slated for general release in the U.S. at the end of April 2005. Sony Classical cannily timed the release of the original soundtrack. The film was said to be a feel-good romance starring Dame Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and newcomer Daniel Brühl, about a young Polish violinist who washes up from a shipwreck into the lives of two older women of Cornwall. It is a clean picture and highly sentimental, the kind of typically "British" film made mostly for export to other countries. Nigel Hess' soundtrack music to Ladies in Lavender incorporates the singular talents of classical violinist Joshua Bell to cover Brühl's playing in the picture. Hess has stated that Bell "takes the music I've written to a whole new level. (It's) like stepping into a really expensive Rolls Royce." Bell is heard on most of Ladies in Lavender's 16 tracks, which range rather widely in content. Beginning with Hess' cleverly conceived theme to the picture, containing a sententious scrap of Massenet's "Meditation" from Thaïs to associate the violin music with Brühl's character, the score moves through a traditional Polish dance obviously meant to be played with some abandon, and concludes with a straight-up rendition of Paganini's Variations of "The Carnival of Venice." Bell is on the mark at every turn; he isn't just trading in on his celebrity value to participate in this film score -- Bell is creating through his playing a characterization that suits the work that the actor is doing onscreen. The music throughout is sweet, light, and sentimental. If one already likes the picture Ladies in Lavender, this practically recommends itself, but with the absence of any real adult contemporary music on today's market, Ladies in Lavender might well appeal to grownups who want to enjoy music that is easy to like, emotional, and of a highly professional caliber. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2004 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

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Concertos - Released September 5, 2008 | Sony Classical

When the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields began to popularize Vivaldi's music in the 1970s, it was on the cutting edge with its light, warm chamber orchestra sound, burnished to technical perfection yet sounding completely different from its symphonic cousins. Now, a recording like this one, with star violinist Joshua Bell, sounds conservative in comparison with young bucks like Fabio Biondi on the historical-performance side or even the young Dutch firebrand Janine Jansen. This big-budget (by classical standards) release is the kind of thing you don't see so often now, with a big poster showing Bell carefully decked out in a partially undone tie, as well as individual full-color cards reproducing, in Italian and English, the descriptive seasonal sonnets that provide the program for the four concertos. It could have collapsed under its own weight, but Bell pulls it off. Conducting the Academy strings himself, he forges tight, not-overly-sweet recordings of Vivaldi's four familiar concertos, with a nice contrast between orchestra and solo that showcases his easy, compelling agility and his Heifetz-like sharpness and brilliance. There's nothing fancy about the recording, which resembles in its basic outlines many of those released by mainstream chamber orchestras a couple of decades ago, but it's just extraordinarily carefully and sharply done, with slight broadenings of tempo at the ends of intricate phrases to give Bell space to show his stuff. The programmatic drama of the music is never shortchanged, but never overdone. In a way, with every performer feeling that he or she has to say something new about the Four Seasons, it's nice to find one who is confident enough not to have to do that. In fact, the one moment where the mood is broken comes when Bell does attempt something unorthodox: the slow movment of the "Winter" concerto (track 11), which he takes a good deal faster than Largo and articulates the cadences in a fussy way. The recording is rounded out by Tartini's Sonata in G minor for violin and continuo ("The Devil's Trill"), which has the effect of a release into the realm of spectacular display after the taut beauty of the Vivaldi. It's a recording worthy of Bell's star quality, a fine Four Seasons for those not ready to take the plunge into historical performance, and an impressive feat of (mostly) studio engineering. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2009 | Decca Music Group Ltd.

On this three-disc Best of Joshua Bell collection, the Decca label basically delivers what it promises, and is even generous about it. True, nothing actually tells you that the "Decca years" were from the first part of Bell's career, but the various boyish photos of Bell should get the point across. Bell started out like most young violinists, recording standard concerto repertory with a pure tone that did not foreclose strong forward momentum. Of his various forbears among violinists of the twentieth century, Henryk Szeryng is perhaps underestimated for his importance. The third disc in the set shows Bell developing the style that has made him famous, applying his high-flying playing to Fritz Kreisler and the other composers of violin encore pieces that were forgotten during the era of high modernism. It's been a potent combination, and one that was by no means obvious when Bell was young. In fact, the third CD, "Favorites," may appeal even to owners of Bell's later discs covering the same territory; there's a snap in, say, his reading of Kreisler's Caprice viennois (CD 3, track 8), that comes from the consciousness he was rediscovering all this delightful stuff that was consigned to the dustbin by tight-lipped modernism. Check out also the thoroughly corny and thoroughly enjoyable Waves at Play (Wellenspiel) of Edwin Grasse (CD 3, track 10). In between the standards and the favorites comes a disc of chamber performances that, if they don't exactly qualify as rarities, may at least be missing from many Bell collections. The set as a whole collects recordings that made Bell's reputation, and fans and collectors will welcome the chance to have a wide variety of them in one place. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 18, 2013 | Sony Classical

Hi-Res Booklet
Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields present two of Ludwig van Beethoven's most graceful and buoyant symphonies for this Sony release and play them with a lightness and freshness that many listeners will welcome. Bell makes his recording debut as a conductor with this 2013 CD, and his adoption of historically informed practices ensures that the music has clean textures and brisk tempos, qualities long associated with the Academy's tradition of playing Beethoven in the spirit of the Classical era. Once past the solemn Adagio introduction, the Symphony No. 4 in B flat major is effervescent and unrestrained in its cheerfulness, and Bell's light touch and the orchestra's deft execution make this one of the most charming interpretations available. This work is paired with the exuberant Symphony No. 7 in A major, which corresponds with its joyous dance rhythms and transparent orchestration, and balances the program with its similar formal proportions and length. Both performances offer closely considered interpretations, showing that Bell is particularly concerned with crisp articulation and subtly graded dynamics, and his attention to details brings out many inner parts that are sometimes lost in thicker sounding conventional readings. But these are far from myopic readings, because Bell has an innate feeling for phrasing and trajectory, so the larger expressions are fully communicated. Sony's reproduction is transparent and vibrant, and the music was captured with close-up clarity and warmth. © TiVo
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Classical - Released June 19, 2001 | Sony Classical

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Accompanied by the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by David Zinman, violinist Joshua Bell introduces William David Brohn's arrangement of "West Side Story Suite," a 19-minute work drawn from Leonard Bernstein's music for the Broadway musical West Side Story, in a world-premiere recording. The arrangement comes ten years after Bernstein's death, but his daughter, Jamie Bernstein Thomas, in her liner notes, suggests that the composer would have approved, although she cautions that his reactions could be unpredictable. Whatever he might have thought, the suite is really a minor, unremarkable effort that does little more than string together the major melodies from the show's songs for Bell to render in his characteristically high-pitched playing. Far more interesting, even if it is included only to fill out the disc, is the five-part, half-hour-long "Serenade After Plato's 'Symposium,'" a piece of Bernstein program music that makes greater demands on the orchestra and soloist. "West Side Story Suite" may get the headline here, but the serenade is much more worthy of the musicians' time and effort. The songs (also included are numbers from On the Town and Candide) are better left to the shows for which they were written. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo