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on September 2, 2002
...extremely angry with London/Decca engineers for making his 1713 Strad ("Gibson ex Huberman") sound like it was made of plastic. The recorded sound of his instrument is about 2 steps beyond an Edison cylinder. The performance sounds like he was put into an isolation booth with a lapel mic.
Although condsidering the total lack of resonance and depth from the G string, one could assume the engineers used two mics and combined the sound out-of-phase to render a dead-center mono signal with the lower tones scattered into oblivion. There is no evidence at any moment that he is in the same room with the orchestra. There are two distinct and radically different acoustical environments mixed together. Mixed, not blended.
Overall, the recording is exceedingly harsh with red-hot frequencies between 2k and 9K. The Barber is one of the warmest pieces in the repertoire and here it sounds cold and cruel. The recording of the orchestra doesn't fare much better with the initial Timp forte overloading the system and distorting. The sound doesn't improve until the last movement of the Walton when, for the first time, there is some slight hall resonance associated with the violin.
What the heck were these guys thinking?
Bell is noted for the poetic musicality of his performances; an outstanding American artist. His artistry is not well served here. This recording is a despicable mess.
If you can hear through the technical slop, then enjoy Bell's artistry, but my ear was stopped cold. Very cold.
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on April 17, 2002
A lot of people seem to be focussed on comparing Joshua Bell to Hilary Hahn because of their contemporaneous recordings of the Barber. I don't know why we feel that one has to "win" this debate- they are both extraordinary violinists. I've already commented on this at length in my review of Hilary's CD. Short version- both are wonderful, just different flavours, but I give an edge to Hilary for her superb rendition of the last movement. The Barber aside, we also have the Bloch and Walton on this CD. The Bloch is steeped in Hebrew angst and joy and Joshua gives it his all in an passionate tour de force performance. No one could ever accuse him of being a sterile player.
The Walton is the real jewel of this CD for me. This little played concerto was written for Heifetz and has suffered from undeserved neglect ever since as it is not really the type of flashy concerto that many virtuosi love to dazzle their audiences with. It is however a lush and beautiful lyric masterpiece and Joshua brings out the concerto's soul in exemplary fashion. It is not without it flashy passages either and he negotiates their difficulties with apparent ease. But it is the love song like quality of the first and third movements which stand out for me and Joshua's lyric gifts are heard to great advantage here as they are throughout this excellent CD
Highly recommended..
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on January 2, 2002
In response to the multitude of reviews on this website promoting Hillary Hahn's recording of the Barber Violin Concerto over Joshua Bell's performance, I'd like to offer a contrasting review.
I must admit I have only listened repeatedly to the Barber on both of the aforementioned discs (having only heard the rest of the CDs maybe once). Although some reviewers have said they listened to the Bell recording until they bought Hahn's CD, I would propose you go back and listen to Joshua Bell. Whereas Hillary Hahn does a splendid job, technically perfect and quite musical, her interpretation is very cut-and-dry and not very adventurous. Simply put, Joshua Bell's performance is more personal. Not to suggest his rendition isn't technically and otherwise emaculate, but he offers something more. There are aspects of Bell's performance that are probably not written on Barber's music (you can tell because they don't exist on Hahn's recording). Things like rubato and slides are very human and don't come through clearly enough in Hillary Hahn's relatively machine-like rendition. In contrast, Bell's playing is far more like singing than hacking away at a violin. Were Barber alive today, he'd probably want to listen to Joshua Bell.
In short, if you want a comparatively bland introduction to Barber's Violin Concerto, go buy Hillary Hahn. If you're looking for something that will move you, you must buy Joshua Bell every time.
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on July 9, 2000
Once again we must be thankful for David Zinman devotion to expand the repertoire of today's orchestra, be it with newly commissioned works, or by giving a new shine to "recent" masterpieces. If Barber and Walton violin concerto cannot be considered anymore newcomers to the repertoire, they are still a rarity. This recording should put an end to that. Here we have superb, sumptuous play by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, a romantic and lovingly shaped solo violin by Joshua Bell, and clear direction by Zinman. This enough should be an incentive to own it. But the main merit of this recording is that Zinman makes these concertos accessible, connected to the orchestral tradition and yet relevant to our modern ears. With this recording, the Baltimore Symphony shows us that indeed the XX century will give our incipient XXI a lot more of classics than one might have expected a couple of decades ago: they just need to be understood, played well, and listened to with care. There is more to Barber than just an adagio.
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on October 13, 1999
The world is taking too long to discover how amazing Joshua Bell is. He deserves to be a household name the way Perlman and Stern are... er, used to be, anyways. Pitiful how underappreciated classical music is these days (there are folks in SF who, to this day, will say, "Michael Tilson WHO???). This is THE CD to have if you want to listen to the Barber or the Walton concertos. His rendition of the Barber is devastatingly beautiful and thrilling- if you aren't moved by the first movement at the very least, you need to check your pulse. On the Baal Shem suite, Bell's violin playing is simply magical. He truly sings from his soul on these three movements. I'll eat my hat if I ever find another recording of "Simchas Torah" that's as delightful to listen to as his. On the Walton concerto, Bell's virtuosic skill and sweet lyricism are put to good use, making for some truly enjoyable listening. The third movement is a smashing delight to listen to, and for some reason reminds me of how badly I want to hear him play Shostakovich's violin concertos. Of course this CD gets five stars. Now, will Yo-Yo Ma please take a brief hiatus from recording so Joshua Bell can get the Grammy that he deserves?
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on December 10, 1998
Although I have been Bell's fan for years, this recording truly marked him as a marvel of lyricism and technique. The very difficult moto perpetuo like 3rd mvmt, which some called unreadable, was the weakest of the Barber, but the straining beauty of the 1st and 2nd mvmts were too great to criticize anymore of that concerto. Bell did a great job in Baal-Shem of distinguishing each mvmts characteristics. The very difficult and beautiful Walton concerto was played well with the Baltimore Symphony. I was so dissapointed to hear Perlman's recording of the Barber. Perlman was a little too forceful to carry to melodic violin line but his 3rd mvmt was better. I also thought that Joshua Bell should have won the Grammy this year. Better luck next year with the Gershwin Fantasy, I guess.
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on April 22, 2001
Wind him up and let him go! Joshua Bell, an extraordinary technician, a terrible violinist. I read other reviews about this cd and felt compelled to buy it. What a dissappointment. It left me cold and unimpressed. The intonation was fine but I think I could have given a more soulful rendition. Bell is considered a phenomenal young talent however I feel he sounds like a machine. He is missing all the aspects of music that make listening to it so enjoyable. He is one of a growing breed of violinist, a violinist without an identifiable panache. I have buried this cd in my stacks, it will never see the light of day again. If you want a real recording of it, buy Hahn's, it is breathtaking.
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on January 8, 2001
Joshua Bell is truly an incredible violinist. This cd clearly puts him on the list as one of the "Greats" like Perlman and Menhuhin. This recording of the Barber was simply THE BEST! The 1st and 2nd movement touch the soul, and the brilliant presto was so incredible and "action movie" like. The recording of Bloch's Baal Shem was simply breath taking. Bell realy knows how to reach a listeners heart with the violin
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on July 3, 2001
But not just right. The Barber is okay, though the second movement is awfully schmaltzy, and the third movement is indeed mechanical. I thought this was a fine recording, until I heard Hilary Hahn's. Now I don't play this one any more.
The Walton is finely played, though I could have wished for a little more expressiveness.
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on July 16, 2000
Joshua Bell has a poise and clarity that is beyond his years, and nowhere is it better demonstrated than in this CD. The first track alone will take your breath away with its sheer beauty. Bell's ability to pour his heart and soul into a piece of music is spellbinding...the English language is at a deficit to describe this CD.
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