By the time I started collecting seriously in 2005 this 2002 album was nowhere to be found in my area. It's not really a surprise, either; Norrington had switched to bigger projects, and Bell was doing film and crossover albums like they were going out of style. So when I saw this at my local bookstore (remember those?!), I was inclined to give it serious consideration. The results are highly impressive.
Bell has never been my favorite violinist, but I can't really pinpoint why. Certainly his technique and musicianship are world-class, and he's brought classical music to millions of listeners. Perhaps he lacks that extra ounce of warmth, or fire in the belly, but whatever the case I've never been especially taken by his recordings. Of Norrington I'm even less sure, although the recordings on which he features in my collection are very good. Editorial background aside, these two work very well together. Bell plays the Mendelssohn with a sense of discovery and freshness that is entirely welcome. Norrington's chamber forces don't lighten the textures as much as you might like, but the swift and uncluttered approach does its job. Bell's own cadenzas prove interesting, but it's really the exceptional violin playing that makes this disc so valuable. This was – if my memory serves me – Bell's second go at the piece, and it has a maturity that never becomes mannerism. That is to say, the overall picture is so valid that this is a version I will return to frequently.
Like the Mendelssohn concerto, the Beethoven has a vast discography. This is a light, fresh look at the piece that again features some stupendous violin playing and less than exceptional support from Norrington. The man is a bona fide Beethoven conductor, and the Camerata Salzburg performs at a very high level, but a more egalitarian relationship would have been nice. You don't feel that Bell is over-milked as much as you feel that the chamber orchestra is a touch reluctant to assert itself. Still, I've listened to the whole disc over the last few days and am convinced that if you are a fan of this unquestionably talented artist, you must have this, and if not, this might just be the album that changes your mind.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman