Joshua Bell

Romance of the Violin

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This CD from the young American violin phenomenon Joshua Bell will fill the bill for background music in restaurants with a lot of velour, and it might be nice for the car CD player on a late-night cruise along the shore. For others, however, it may be a bit of a bore. The disc offers 50-plus minutes of sheer melody, all of it in nearly the same moderate tempo. Despite its name, most of the music on this release is arranged for violin and orchestra from vocal or keyboard pieces; there is one cello work, the "Swan" section of Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, and the closest thing to original violin music is the Nocturne movement from Borodin's String Quartet No. 2. There are several operatic melodies ("O mio babbino caro," "Casta diva," and, more surprisingly, "Pur ti miro" from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea), and some short piano tunes. Romance of the Violin is essentially a classical greatest-hits collection, one of many available, and more expensive than most at a hefty $18.98 list. The orchestral arrangements are by pop producer Craig Leon, and though they're precisely rendered by the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in the finest sound Sony has to offer, they have a very familiar kind of sameness. Romance needn't be, shouldn't be, so monochrome, and this is a lateral move at best for Bell, who has shown great promise as the player who might bridge the gap between classical music's traditional listenership and its new crossover audiences.

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