I greatly enjoy this disc - Joshua Bell is always brilliant when he plays the Tchaikovsky concerto, and Sakari Oramo and his Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are fabulous throughout the performance. Other reviewers have said a great deal about the merits of the disc; here I want to comment on some of the things other reviewers said about Joshua Bell's music-making.
I find it interesting that some listeners take issue with Joshua Bell's interpretations in general because they don't sound "deep". You see, that's the issue I have with some classical music listeners; does music have to be "deep", "profound", or "thought-evoking" to be enjoyable, or to be great music? There seems to be this assumption that a musician is only good if he makes the music sound deep. It seems that our age of music listening is, sadly, more about instructing than enjoying. And really, who are we to say how a piece of music is supposed to be played? More often I find that when a critic criticizes a certain player's interpretation, the review speaks more of the critic's own ego than anything else.
To me a great musician makes his listeners enjoy the music, and in my opinion, Bell is one of those musicians. Over the years, he has made his sound more and more refined, and achieved this tonal unity that's quite remarkable and unique. He has a big palette of colors when he needs it, but more often you hear this pure, slender and focused tone, with only subtle variation in timbre throughout the pitch range. That's the thing I love the most about Bell's violin sound - he keeps the tone perfectly in control, so when he does vary it, it has great effect on the music expression. His playing is subtle; he doesn't saw out scratchy pizzicati to make one notice how fast he plays, doesn't make bombastic sounds to show his effort, or use blistering high notes to remind the listeners that he has soul. He doesn't set out to make his interpretations different from the others, and that's exactly why I like them - everything sounds natural, and there isn't any of those quirks that often mark many violinists' so-called personal "interpretations". His interpretations are often balletic, full of dancing rhythm, like light hovering high in the air. There is hardly real darkness; and no, they are not the most "profound" interpretations - they don't make you think about the meaning of your existence, or questions about life and death. But music isn't all about life-and-death questions. I remember Bell said in an interview that he made music for its beauty, and he disagreed with the idea that music must reflect the ugliness in the real world ("people wrote the most beautiful music in the ugliest time", how true). In this sense, he has achieved exactly what he wanted; in his music, everything is beautiful, almost too much so.
For listeners who accept Bell's music-making in its own terms, they would for sure be rewarded with a great experience of ravishingly beautiful music. And for listeners who don't appreciate Bell's philosophy - well, you have plenty other musicians to listen to.