JS Bach

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Sony
WORKS: Violin Concerto Nos 1-2; Orchestral Suite No. 3 – Air; Violin Partita No. 2 – Chaconne (arr. Mendelssohn/Milone); Violin Partita No. 3 – Gavotte (arr. Schumann/Milone)
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin); Academy of St Martin in the Fields
CATALOGUE NO: 88843087792

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Joshua Bell’s Bach programme showcases the cherishable A minor and E major Violin Concertos and the popular Air on the G String. It also features two curiosities: orchestral arrangements by composer Julian Milone of the piano accompaniments provided by Mendelssohn for the monumental D minor Chaconne, and by Schumann for the Gavotte from the Third Partita – both a far remove from the originals for solo violin.

Bell describes his approach to Bach as ‘a melding of the old and the new’. The former is evidenced in his suave, silky tone and extrovert virtuosity, in his expressive liberties with tempo and in the full-bodied orchestral sound; but Bell also pays tribute to more recent trends inspired by period performance practice – notably in leading the orchestra from the violin but also in his stylish ornamentation and improvisatory flair. Such a compromise is most effective in the two arrangements – works which are, in themselves, hybrids, straddling the boundaries across three centuries.

The concertos, though, are a strange crossbreed: not ‘authentic’, yet rather apologetically Romantic. The fleshy orchestra, with its brawny lower strings, tends to weigh down Bach’s floating melodies and dance-inspired rhythms, and the recorded balance is artificially close on the solo violin, so the spirit of chamber music-making, so essential to Bach’s world, is lost.

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Kate Bolton