Violin Concerto in D, Op.61 Mendelssohn
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Joshua Bell (violin)
Sir Roger Norrington
Recorded 4-8 November 2000, Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL SK 89505 Duration: Reviewed: August 2002
Bell and Norrington in Harmony
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
With the same team due at the Proms (21 August) for the Beethoven, the one they made earlier makes for fascinating listening. The combination of Joshua Bell and Roger Norrington isnt one that might immediately associate itself but it works and Bell is at his finest here, and there is little to criticise Norrington over.
I have taken issue with quite a lot of Sir Rogers Beethoven conducting the austere, non-vibrato strings (even with modern ensembles) and the character-less, spot-on-the-metronome tempi (those indications questionable in my view) that have reduced towering statements to gibbering wrecks. In this collaboration, Bell plays both pieces as one might anticipate, which means that speeds are finely judged for the contemporary ear, and Norrington is altogether more shapely with phrasing than expected and he seems happily willing to give space in Beethovens first movement that is not necessarily within the gift of the authentic mindset.
An ideally balanced and warm-sounding recording reports Norringtons antiphonal violins, the liberation of woodwind lines and the attractively crisp timpani. Little or no vibrato there may be (the Salzburgers are not a period outfit), but there is plenty of heart as well as attention to timbral variety and contrasts to stretch the ears. Bell is in lyrical mood, investing the first movements recitatives with intensity and emotion but never overplaying it. His own cadenza is a fine mix of subject, fantasy and display.
Bell also supplies the cadenza for the Mendelssohn; not sure it entirely works given it releases feelings slightly outside the concerto as a whole, which is given a flowing, melodious and, where necessary, fiery rendition. Bells love for the piece shines through, and if he loves it a bit too much at times, theres no doubting the sparkle of his playing or that of the orchestra, which is capable of elfin integration and something more robust theres nothing effete about Mendelssohn here. The dusky-sounding strings and the insouciant woodwind are particularly appealing.