Bell and Norrington in Harmony

0 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64

Joshua Bell (violin)

Camerata Salzburg
Sir Roger Norrington

Recorded 4-8 November 2000, Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: August 2002
SK 89505

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 isn’t 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 Roger’s 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 Beethoven’s first movement that is not necessarily within the gift of the ’authentic’ mindset.

An ideally balanced and warm-sounding recording reports Norrington’s 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 movement’s 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. Bell’s love for the piece shines through, and if he loves it a bit too much at times, there’s no doubting the sparkle of his playing or that of the orchestra, which is capable of elfin integration and something more robust – there’s nothing effete about Mendelssohn here. The dusky-sounding strings and the insouciant woodwind are particularly appealing.

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