ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky: Joshua Bell
WORKS: Violin Concerto; Méditation in D minor, Op. 42/1; Swan Lake – Danse russe
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin); Berlin PO/Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: SH 94829
‘Intimate, elegant, almost “balletic”’ is how Joshua Bell describes Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in an otherwise meretricious piece of booklet puffery, and those were the adjectives I was reaching for before I read what he had to say. To which might also be added the qualities of pensiveness, even troubled introspection. These qualities may seem appropriate for a work written in the wake of Tchaikovsky’s disastrous marriage, but the principal charm of this Concerto surely rests with its mostly sunny, sometimes bittersweet flow of original melody. Compare this recording, where the nuancing is well matched by Tilson Thomas and some winsome solos from the Berlin Philharmonic’s principal flautist and clarinetist, with Bell’s 20-year-old self, and the earlier version combines greater spontaneity with sweeter tone (there’s more bloom around the violin in Decca’s studio sound than in Sony’s live Berlin acoustic).
The companion pieces may be of special interest. Bell and Tilson-Thomas have, I believe, performed the concerto with its original slow movement, following the main work here; marginally more ambitious but less memorable than the replacement Canzonetta, it was repackaged by Tchaikovsky as the Op. 42 Meditation for violin and piano and orchestrated by Glazunov. A final encore, the ‘Danse Russe’ from Swan Lake which started life as a piano solo, is despatched with Bell’s more customary panache. David Nice