As the name suggests, this is a smoochy violin CD, not one that is focused on jaw-dropping feats of agility – in other words, it is romantic, not Romantic. (The bulk of the music comes from the Romantic era, however.) It appears that Decca got the idea for this compilation from Romance of the Violin, a best-selling CD that Bell recorded for Sony Classical in 2003. That CD consisted entirely of arrangements for violin and orchestra; this one sticks, for the most part, to "real" violin music. (The exception is Brahms' Hungarian Dance #1.) The Sony CD was, frankly, soupy. The present one is sweet, but not overly so.
Bell recorded this material between 1986 and 1996. He went a long way during that decade. Early on, Decca capitalized on his Midwestern good looks, no doubt trying to make classical music attractive for the girls (well, maybe some guys too!) who read Tiger Beat in Borders Books. Fortunately, Bell's musicianship survived this kind of treatment, and now he's appreciated for the correct characteristics: strong and lyrical violin playing. (That's hasn't kept Decca from placing photographs of the younger Bell all over the CD booklet.) I will say that he is a more exciting violinist live, however.
The repertoire is divided between concertos (slow movements only, except for the finale of Lalo's Symphonie espagñole) and more active pieces for violin and piano. The concertos are those by Bruch (#1), Barber, Brahms, Wieniawski (#2 ), and Tchaikovsky. The last ends without a full stop, a fact that Decca sloppily ignores by simply cutting away before the start of the finale. The Barber is treasurable, though, and I very much enjoyed the selection of four works by Fritz Kreisler: Schön' Rosmarin, Tambourin chinois, Liebesfreud, and Liebeslied. (Paul Coker is the pianist in these.)
This collection offers nothing new for Bell's many fans. It doesn't really seem to have been put together with the serious classical collector in mind, but it is an enjoyable late-night indulgence for the "chill" crowd. In spite of the varying venues and dates, the engineering is consistently good. Stephen Johnson's booklet notes are superficial – predictable, for a project such as this one.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle