Violinist Joshua Bell and cellist Steven Isserlis are joined by two acclaimed musical forces - pianist Jeremy Denk and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, of which Bell is Music Director – in a landmark joint recording, For the Love of Brahms (Sony Classical). Available September 30, 2016, the new album is a unique project that features works of Brahms and Schumann that Bell calls “music about love and friendship.” Bell, Isserlis and Denk unite here in Brahms’s first published chamber work, the Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8 in its rarely performed original 1854 version. Isserlis also joins Bell – as violin soloist and director – and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in Brahms’s last orchestral work, the celebrated Double Concerto (for Violin and Cello) in A Minor, Op. 102. Bell, Isserlis and members of the Academy also offer the first recording of an unusual coupling: the slow movement of Schumann’s rarely heard Violin Concerto, in a version for string orchestra made by Benjamin Britten, who also added a short coda.
Unusually the liner note deserves a mention ahead of the music: the fine pianist Jeremy Denk, half of this regular duo, manages to encapsulate the elusiveness of French romantic music with such insight in a few sharp sentences, his words almost shape the way we listen to this superbly played disc. Saint-Saëns' wistful and emotional Sonata No 1 and Ravel's bluesy, ironic sonata have a whipped, airy quality. Joshua Bell plays with fire and finesse, with Denk a powerful ally. Franck's dark-light violin sonata, mysterious, ardent and far more than the sum of its parts when played as majestically as here, forms the centrepiece of this seriously beguiling disc.
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.
Joshua Bell's fresh approach to these violin warhorses makes for an unexpectedly inviting listening experience. In the Mendelssohn he marries his bright tone to forthright phrasing in a manner that communicates the music's emotion without sliding into the gooey sweetness heard in some interpretations. There's little if anything hackneyed about Bell's reading, indicating he's thought about the work anew, right through to the stylistically appropriate cadenza he composed himself (Bell cites research that suggests Mendelssohn's friend Ferdinand David may have actually composed the original cadenza). Roger Norrington's crisp, period-informed style, with its pointed accents and propulsive energy easily fits in with Bell's conception.
Joshua Bell lights of the stage with this dazzling performance of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, the centerpiece of the Nobel Prize Concert in Stockholm in honour of the 2010 Nobel Laureates. Part of the official Nobel Week, this tribute concert opens with music by Beethoven that urgently evokes the spirit of freedom from tyranny. Closing the evening is a glowing account by Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic of Sibelius's monument to orchestral majesty, the titanic Fifth Symphony.