Joshua Bell / Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Joshua Bell Conducts Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 4 & 7

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Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields present two of Ludwig van Beethoven's most graceful and buoyant symphonies for this Sony release and play them with a lightness and freshness that many listeners will welcome. Bell makes his recording debut as a conductor with this 2013 CD, and his adoption of historically informed practices ensures that the music has clean textures and brisk tempos, qualities long associated with the Academy's tradition of playing Beethoven in the spirit of the Classical era. Once past the solemn Adagio introduction, the Symphony No. 4 in B flat major is effervescent and unrestrained in its cheerfulness, and Bell's light touch and the orchestra's deft execution make this one of the most charming interpretations available. This work is paired with the exuberant Symphony No. 7 in A major, which corresponds with its joyous dance rhythms and transparent orchestration, and balances the program with its similar formal proportions and length. Both performances offer closely considered interpretations, showing that Bell is particularly concerned with crisp articulation and subtly graded dynamics, and his attention to details brings out many inner parts that are sometimes lost in thicker sounding conventional readings. But these are far from myopic readings, because Bell has an innate feeling for phrasing and trajectory, so the larger expressions are fully communicated. Sony's reproduction is transparent and vibrant, and the music was captured with close-up clarity and warmth.

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