BARBER: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 14; BLOCH: Baal Shem; WALTON: Violin Concerto Joshua Bell, violin/ Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/ David Zinman – Decca

by | Mar 15, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BARBER: Violin Concerto in A Minor, Op. 14; BLOCH: Baal Shem; WALTON: Violin Concerto Joshua Bell, violin/ Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/ David Zinman

Decca 475 7710, (1997/2007) 68:00 (Distrib. Universal) ****:

Three neo-Romantic works grace this reissue program featuring American violin idol Joshua Bell. Pungent and exalted playing for the Barber Concerto (1939), especially in Zinman’s tuttis, to which Bell has to reach down deep into his strings to match in intensity. The little oboe tune sounds fairly ingenuous against the large gestures of the opening movement, which can be quite sweeping under Zinman’s polished command. The Andante movement will likely become excerpted for itself, its lush melos and instrumental coloring a perennial piece of Americana. After two slow, impassioned movements, the Presto in moto perpetuo, with its unceasing triplet sixteenth notes, provides enough bravura for several concertos, the tympani bursting with energy, along with the frothy woodwinds. Bell manages the gamut of emotions, from ardent melancholy to whirling dervish, with breezy aplomb.

Bloch’s Baal Shem Suite, Three Pictures of Chasidic Life (1923), was orchestrated in 1939. I first heard this expanded version in Atlanta with Franco Gulli, who blew me away. The opening Vidui (Contrition) movement sets the tone of plainchant, declamation, and personal entreaty. Nigun (Improvisation) has long held its own place in the violin repertory, its manic repetition and sudden flights of ecstatic contemplation remain compulsory listening. Pointed orchestral interjections from woodwinds and tympani, what, given the political climate of this orchestration, might be “the indignant desert birds.” The Simchas Torah is a true rejoicing, achieving a serenity of spirit quite elevating, the major tonalities delighting in strings, winds, and triangle.

The Walton Concerto (1939) was composed with Jascha Heifetz in mind; and while both his inscriptions – with Goossens and the composer – remain virtually definitive, there are powerful renditions by Ida Haendel, Zino Francescatti, Camilla Wicks, and now this one. A passionate piece, it takes its cue from Prokofiev’s two concertos, especially the G Minor. The interplay of oboe, violin solo, low strings, and harp in the first movement proves effectively virtuosic. The weird Scherzo rocks back and forth, a tarantella and tipsy waltz. Bell’s violin scratches and buzzes with requisite manic energy. The Italianate Canzonetta section of the finale perfectly suits Bell’s troubadour persona, although I find the Vivace movement derivative of Prokofiev’s general form and eccentric metrics. A solid addition to the Joshua Bell legacy, where the Bloch makes a substantial contribution.

— Gary Lemco

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