Beethoven; Mendelssohn Violin Concertos
It is fascinating to speculate how far Joshua Bell’s readings of these two warhorse violin concertos have been affected by having a chamber group – the Camerata Salzburg under their periodinfluenced conductor‚ Sir Roger Norrington – as partners. The opening tutti of the Beethoven is clean and crisp rather than powerful‚ and the opening of the slow movement brings minimal use of vibrato by the strings‚ echoing period practice‚ giving an ethereal quality. As for the soloist‚ his tone seems sparer than in his earlier Decca recordings‚ clean and bright rather than warmly romantic‚ but that‚ I suspect‚ has much to do with the recording quality‚ which is relatively dry‚ so giving less bloom to the violin tone.
Not that the power of the Beethoven or the mercurial energy of the Mendelssohn are in short supply. The Beethoven may seem to be conceived on a smaller scale than usual‚ but clarity goes with concentration‚ and a speed rather faster than usual in this long first movement brings an extra tautness to its structure. Whether or not helped by the scale‚ Bell’s reading has plenty of light and shade‚ bringing mystery in the central development section. After his own impressive cadenza‚ just as long and demanding as the regular Kreisler one‚ Bell (or Norrington) then refuses to linger over the coda in a Romantic way‚ consistent with their whole approach.
The slow movement‚ after its ‘period’ start‚ is relatively light and delicate‚ with clean‚ pure tone from Bell‚ and the relative intimacy of the reading comes out more clearly than ever in the finale‚ with crisp timpani. There‚ too‚ Bell plays his own cadenza with plentiful doublestopping immaculately performed.
That he uses his own cadenza in the first movement of the Mendelssohn is rather more controversial when one is provided in the published score. In his thoughtful note Bell claims authority for his departure by suggesting that the published cadenza was mainly by Mendelssohn’s friend‚ Ferdinand David‚ not the composer. As in the Beethoven‚ he revels in exploiting the material. Evidently‚ he started writing his cadenza as a challenge to himself‚ ‘an amusing exercise’‚ but after much thought decided to include it in his recording as a ‘personal touch’‚ hoping it will not be seen as an insult to a masterpiece.
Perhaps more controversial is the coolness of the slow movement‚ very simple‚ pure and direct‚ totally avoiding sentimentality‚ though missing some of the warmth Bell brought to this movement in his earlier Decca version of the Concerto‚ a reading a shade more expansive in all three movements. The finale this time is very fast‚ light and sparkling‚ but with plenty of detail‚ again in a performance smaller in scale than even Kennedy’s with the ECO – one of his finest discs – let alone Perlman’s with the Concertgebouw‚ both of them warmer too. Yet Bell’s readings of both works are strong and distinctive‚ making up what he feels is an ideal coupling.