French Impressions, Joshua Bell's first recital program for Sony Classical features the Grammy Award-winning violinist and his longtime friend and recital partner, pianist Jeremy Denk, offering a passionately nuanced interpretation of works by Saint-Saens, Ravel and Franck.
Violinist Vaughan Jones brings us a fascinating collection of 18th century solo works. Three hundred years after their first publication, Austrian composer Johann Joseph Vilsmayr's Six Partitas for Solo Violin are recorded here in their entirety for the first time. Johann Georg Pisendel was a famous Baroque violinist and composer. His fiendishly difficult Violin Sonata is an unpredictable, tempestuous and capricious work, showing great scope and ambition. To round out the recording, Jones plays the famous Passacaglia by Biber - a somber, moving work and a perfect end to this noteworthy set.
This SACD transfer of Anne-Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven violin sonatas, taken from a series of live recordings from 1998, does not transcend the questionable interpretations. In each of these famous sonatas, Mutter takes excessive liberties with respect to dynamics and phrasing, and while some listeners may appreciate the thought and care she puts into these readings, it sounds as if she is trying a bit too hard to be “musical”. For example, just before the exposition repeat of the “Spring” sonata, several instances of disproportionate agogic pauses, inconsistent use of vibrato, random adherences to sforzando markings, and a sporadic disregard for (or recasting of) dynamics combine to produce an overly fussy performance that lacks momentum and a sense of direction.
Brett Dean is not shy about revealing what his music is ‘about’. Whether inspired by certain individuals (as in Epitaphs), or by an ecological or human disaster (as in his String Quartet No. 1, on the now all too topical plight of refugees), Dean’s works are usually – perhaps invariably – driven by extra-musical narratives. Rather than tease out any innate structural puzzles or tensions, his music typically falls into short little dramatic narratives – no movement on this disc lasts as long as eight minutes, many of them rather less than five. The most obviously successful work here is Quartet No. 2, ‘And once I played Ophelia’, effectively a dramatic scena. Its soprano soloist is no mere extra voice (as in Schoenberg’s Second Quartet) but the leading protagonist. Allison Bell’s genuinely affecting performance is backed by the Doric Quartet’s expressionist scampering and sustained harmonies, the strings occasionally coming to the fore in the manner of a Schumann-style song postlude.