Beethoven, Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Mendelssohn
WORKS: Violin Concerto in D
PERFORMER: Joshua Bell (violin); Camerata Salzburg/Roger Norrington
There are performances of great concertos that leave you admiring the soloist, and others that leave you admiring the composer. The ideal should be a mixture of both, which makes Joshua Bell’s Beethoven close to ideal and his Mendelssohn even closer. As for Anne-Sophie Mutter’s Beethoven, the playing is, as ever, technically and stylishly stunning. She has the kind of tone that forces you to listen – no remission for good behaviour. But it’s a long time since I’ve felt such a negative reaction to a recording of this concerto. Where Bell’s playing often draws the ear to felicities in the writing (as does Roger Norrington’s conducting), Mutter strikes me as intent on making Beethoven dance to her tune. The mysterious lead-back to the first movement recapitulation is weighed down with heavy, overly ‘meaningful’ phrasing; the frail-as-ghost-gossamer pianissimo after the cadenza is even more showily theatrical. Recent articles and letters in BBC Music Magazine are useful reminders that many people love this kind of over-the-top ‘interpretation’. If you are one of them, I wish you joy. But for me it’s Bell who sounds as though he has entered into a true creative relationship with the music, despite his lighter, less commanding tone. Of recent versions only the stunning Zehetmair/Brüggen period-instrument version of the Beethoven on Philips has more to reveal. And in the Mendelssohn, Bell is at least as convincing as any other modern performer on disc. Incidentally, Bell provides his own cadenzas in both concertos, interesting in the Mendelssohn, and a considerable improvement on the tradition-honoured Kreisler showpieces in the Beethoven. Stephen Johnson