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French Impressions / Joshua Bell, Jeremy Denk

Release Date: 01/10/2012 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 82026  
Composer:  Camille Saint-SaënsCésar FranckMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Joshua BellJeremy Denk
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is Joshua Bell's first album of sonatas since he left Decca for Sony in the late nineties. For it, the forty-five-year-old violin star teamed with up-and-coming pianist Jeremy Denk, a fellow Indiana University alum. Their rapport is revealed in the refinement of their interpretations, which aim to evoke what Denk's liner notes say "makes French music French: sounds that hover.. harmony like perfume evaporating into air." The opening of Franck's A major Sonata is more perfumed and decoratively old-school in Bell's hands than in those of young label mate Ray Chen, whose recording features lighter vibrato and a bigger tone. As for which is most authentic, Chen's bracing air or Bell's hothouse atmospherics, Bell can boast of a Read more direct line to the Franck sonata, having studied with Josef Gingold – who studied with violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, for whom Franck wrote the piece as a wedding present. With his experience in Gershwin, Bell also has a feel for the Jazz Age glitter and grit of Ravel's Violin Sonata. Bell and Denk do right, too, by enlivening Saint-Saëns's rarely recorded Violin Sonata No. 1 in D minor.

– Bradley Bambarger, Listen [Spring 2012]


Titled French Impressions, this trio of marvellous performances has been splendidly recorded at the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.
Saint-Saëns wrote his passionate first Violin Sonata in 1885 whilst at the height of his compositional powers around the time of his famous scores the Carnival of the Animals and the celebrated ‘ OrganSymphony. Saint-Saëns was by then a highly experienced composer for the violin having written his three Violin Concertos, the Morceau de concert, op. 62, the Romance, op. 74, and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra, op. 28. It was over a decade later before Saint-Saëns wrote his second Violin Sonata, op. 102. Here Bell and Denk display fine playing in a style that is most natural, unaffected and never feels over-projected. The Adagio is rapt and poetic with the sweet timbre of Bell’s instrument sounding especially appealing.
Of the alternative accounts of Saint-Saëns’s first Violin Sonata I still admire the successful recording from Sarah Chang (violin) and Lars Vogt (piano). They play with an elevated sense of engagement and tenderness. Playing the same all-French programme as Bell and Denk, the Chang/Vogt partnership were recorded at Potton Hall in 2003 on EMI Classics 5 57679 2.
A warhorse of the chamber music repertoire Franck’s Violin Sonata in A major remains a tough proposition for performers. Composed in 1886 it was a wedding present for Franck’s friend and fellow-countryman the violin virtuoso Eugene Ysaÿe. An epic work the four movement A major Sonata is fresh and packed with original characteristics. Along with the best of Beethoven’s sonatas Franck’s score can be classed amongst the finest of violin sonatas ever written. In this company the Franck Sonata has been the most frequently played. It runs the range of emotions from unbridled passion to sublime serenity. In the dreamy first movement Allegretto ben moderato there’s a degree of tenderness and how splendidly Bell and Denk convey the joyous sense of music-making in the delightful Finale. That said, this does not supplant the magnificent and exhilarating 1977 account by violinist Kyung-Wha Chung and pianist Radu Lupu. Their evergreen recording is on Decca 460 006-2 (c/w Debussy violin sonata, Chausson Poème for violin and orchestra).
The writing of the Ravel Violin Sonata occupied him intermittently for some five years. Around thirty years earlier Ravel he produced a single movement Violin Sonata a student work known as the Sonate Posthume owing to its posthumous publication. The appeal of the mature three movement score has made it a repertoire staple. Ravel’s ‘take’ on the ‘Blues’ throughout the memorable central movement as well as the occasional use of ‘Jazzy’ rhythms clearly reflect the fashion of the day.
Throughout Ravel’s varying moods and frequently interesting ideas the well matched Bell and Denk communicate a gratifying sense of assurance and conviction. The expressive and sharply defined playing of the bittersweet Blues movement is quite irresistible. In addition to this account I can also commend the version from Renaud Capuçon and Frank Braley for their refined authority, colour and innate sense of spontaneity. Their all-Ravel disc is coupled with excellent versions of the Sonate Posthume, Piano Trio and the S onata for Violin and Cello. They are joined by cellist Gautier Capuçon on Virgin Classics 5 4549 2.
This Sony Classical CD offers impeccable performances and I will be returning to them often.
-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Violin and Piano no 1 in D minor, Op. 75 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Joshua Bell (Violin), Jeremy Denk (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1885; France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major, M 8 by César Franck
Performer:  Joshua Bell (Violin), Jeremy Denk (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1886; France 
Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Joshua Bell (Violin), Jeremy Denk (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923-1927; France 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 A great colaboration! More Please!! May 16, 2013 By Gary Duncan (Boston, MA) See All My Reviews "I believe I have every Bell CD ever issued and have seen him perform several times. No surprise here in saying he is one of the very best violinists anywhere today. But if you love piano you are in for a wonderful treat with this CD. Jeremy Denk is simply flawless. This is a remarkable beautiful concert by two masters and really is a must have CD. I hope these two issue more CD's in collaboration. How about a Brahms? And unsurprising, this CD is getting lots of play on Classical Radio stations. Have heard it in Boston and Kansas City!" Report Abuse
 Wonderful! February 3, 2013 By Paul Burgess (Wheaton, IL) See All My Reviews "I loved this recording. Of course, that's partly because of the collaboration of two great artists. Their ensemble is exquisite. They bring out the phrasing and lines in wonderful collaboration. Energy pours out when needed, and the contrasting quiet passages are very warm. A nice collection of music, and the recording quality is really good. It feels as though they are playing here in my room, just for me!" Report Abuse
 Double Delight January 18, 2013 By S. Phillips (Minneapolis, MN) See All My Reviews "ArkivMusic's offerings are tempting enough, but this was a real must-have. I have had the pleasure of hearing Joshua Bell at many Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra concerts, and on radio and CDs. Jeremy Denk was featured in concert a season or two ago, my first time to hear him. I was dazzled, as was the rest of the audience! I could hardly wait for the CD to arrive. Aside from fantastic skills and fine interpretations, both artists share the trait of performing with absolute joy, both in the music and with each other. This is evident in their natural give-and-take. Having now seen each one, I can picture their delight. I am not qualified to write a technical analysis, but am happy to contribute an opinion. Thank you!" Report Abuse
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