French Impressions

Joshua Bell / Jeremy Denk

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French Impressions Review

by Blair Sanderson

French Impressions, Joshua Bell's 2012 release on Sony, presents three great violin sonatas, prime examples of French chamber music that have been cherished for their emotional power and nostalgic coloration. Indeed, the Violin Sonata in D minor of Camille Saint-Saëns and the Violin Sonata in A major of César Franck are so significant in French culture and evocative of their time, they are thought by literary scholars to have served as inspiration for the fictional Vinteuil Sonata in Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. With Maurice Ravel's Violin Sonata reflecting a more modern and playful approach to the genre, the program explores the warm sonorities and subtle moods of French music, as channeled through the classical sonata form, and the refined expression of all three works is lovingly handled by Bell and his accompanist, Jeremy Denk. Bell's playing ranges from gossamer fine lines to thickly resinous attacks, and his command of the violin's timbres reveals the rich possibilities to be found in these pieces. For his part, Denk provides flexible and understated support, with a piano part that ranges from robust activity where needed to atmospheric delicacy. Sony's sound is clear and focused and gives the violin central placement, so all the shades of expression and dynamics are easily heard above the piano.

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