Joshua Bell – Scottish Fantasy
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Sony Classical, 2018
The present recording brings together two of the most famous masterpieces composed by Max Bruch: the Scottish Fantasy, dating to 1880 and indicative of his love for folk music, and the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor, written between 1864 and 1866. Although the Scottish Fantasy is very popular, it is the Violin Concerto the work with which Bruch’s name has always been associated, much to the composer’s annoyance, as many of his works were subsequently neglected.
In the present studio recording of Bruch’s Fantasy and Concerto, violinist Joshua Bell is at the same time soloist and conductor of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, of which he was appointed music director in 2011, a position that in 2017 has been confirmed for three more years.
Joshua Bell and Max Bruch’s Works for Violin
Bruch was part of Bell’s repertoire from the very beginning of his career. His first recording, again with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields conducted by Neville Marriner, was dedicated to Bruch’s and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concertos. After thirty years, Bruch’s Concerto finds its place in a new recording together with the other work for which the composer is best remembered, the Scottish Fantasy.
The guiding thread of both works must be identified in the candid vigour of their rendition. Bell’s reading is plenty of chiaroscuros that bring depth to Fantasy and Concerto, even though they are quite direct in their character and light and shade appear more as delicate nuances rather than evocative effects. This said, straightforwardness has transparency for its main feature and the works are extremely coherent from one end to the other – a coherency made of warm sound and soaring lyricism.
In addition to this, the detailed recorded sound gives prominence to Bell’s romantic style. Both the Fantasy (especially in the Andante sostenuto) and the Concerto (in the Adagio) are elegiac but natural. In the best parts of the recording, however, thoughtfulness and measure are extremely valuable, above all when they blend with warm and vibrant sounds. Then, something really magical seems to take place and Bruch’s lush but transparent melodies reveal their gripping force.