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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. Says Bell, "French Impressions is the culmination of my last decade of exploration and performance with pianist Jeremy Denk, and I hope that with this recording we can affect the listener with the same joy and spiritual enrichment that these masterpieces have provided us over the years."
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To say that the beauty of their sound is the epitome of violin and piano music making is redundant. The degree of interplay and communication gives evidence of the innate musicality of both these young men is mysteriously in sync, even more so than knowing that they have performed together for so many years. As has been written regarding the liner notes of this recording , 'the fine pianist Jeremy Denk manages to encapsulate the elusiveness of French romantic music with such insight in a few sharp sentences, his words almost shape the way we listen to this superbly played disc.' Critics from England are saying 'Saint-Saëns' wistful and emotional Sonata No 1 and Ravel's bluesy, ironic sonata have a whipped, airy quality. Joshua Bell plays with fire and finesse, with Denk a powerful ally. Franck's dark-light violin sonata, mysterious, ardent and far more than the sum of its parts when played as majestically as here, forms the centerpiece of this seriously beguiling album.'
Of all the new recording issued thus far this year this CD, FRENCH IMPRESSIONS, with the combined allure of Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk, is one of the very finest. Grady Harp, January 12
First, Jeremy Denk is a complete partner in this effort on piano. The two performers match phrasing, mood, style. Fine pairing.
Second, I was particularly interested in his take on the Saint-Saens Sonata No. 1 because I had just attended Julia Fischer's recital that included this piece, so wanted to compare. Fischer was, if anything, a bit more muscular, more emphatic, than Bell. Some of Fischer's energy may have come from my hearing a live performance, adrenaline playing a bit more into her interpretation. Still, each was within the scope of the composition, bringing out the darker quality of Saint-Saens found more in his chamber pieces than the orchestral work.
Third, Bell's teacher was Josef Gingold who was a student of Eugene Ysaye, in whose circle of close friends was Caesar Franck who made a gift of his new Sonata to Ysaye on the latter's wedding. In interviews Bell has talked about the importance to him of that line of connection to the creation and transmission of this piece. Perhaps it is superfluous to write that Bell's technique is impeccable, but I have tried to play this sonata only to find it far more difficult than it looks on the page. He plays with such ease and grace that it is easy to take the perfect intonation for granted. His interpretation is suave, while he varies moods from section to section and from movement to movement seamlessly. Jeremy Denk is more than a match for an extremely difficult piano part; without overpowering the violin, Denk mirrors Bell's every move.
There are many beautiful interpretations of these works, but for anyone who enjoys Joshua Bell's grace and elegance, this is a terrific recording.
Every piece in this collection is executed with absolute precision, but the sound is never clinical. The warm singing tone of Bell's Strad and the clear resonant melody from Denk's Steinway complement each other nicely. I especially like their rendition of Ravel's Sonata. From the transparent, airy opening movement, to the lovely bluesy central movement, and then to the energetic final movement, they offered a truly ear-catching performance. The Saint-Saens and Franck are also delivered excellently, with much grace and refinement. As Denk's well written liner notes pointed out, this music is about the color of sounds, and this recording really brings out the different shades of the music. In this sense, the title is not a misnomer at all - it is just like the French impressionist paintings, a celebration of the beauty of light and colors.
All in all, this wonderful recording is a real treat for the classical music lovers.