Bell's talent needs better accompaniment


Prokofiev, Violin and Piano Sonatas, "Five Hebrew Melodies," performed by violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Olli Mustonen (London. 440926)

Joshua Bell has been less fortunate in recording his solo repertory than his concerto repertory. His problem seems to be that London couples him with pianists in their stable who share the violinist's youthful, photogenic good looks but not his musical sensibilities.

Such was the case in Bell's recording of sonatas by Franck, Faure and Debussy with the handsome -- but musically bland -- young Frenchman Jean-Yves Thibaudet; it's also the case in this all-Prokofiev disc with an equally cute -- but musically quirky -- young Finn, Mustonen.

Bell's performances show some of the searching lyricism, instinct for a long line and care for beauty of tone that distinguished the performances of David Oistrakh, for whom Prokofiev wrote this music. But Oistrakh always recorded these works with pianists -- whether Vladimir Yampolsky, Frieda Bauer or Sviatoslav Richter -- with whom he shared deep interpretive affinities.

It's hard to discern on this disc what Mustonen's point of view is -- unless it is that of merely making the music sound spasmodic, ugly and trivial. The best performances remain those of Oistrakh (on several different labels), Perlman-Ashkenazy (on a budget-priced RCA disc) and Kremer-Argerich (on a DG disc.)

Faure, Violin and Piano Sonata No. 1; Franck, Sonata for Violin and Piano; Debussy, Sonata for Violin and Piano; performed by Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug (RCA Red Seal. 09026-62697).

Anyone who wants to hear the three most famous French sonatas in the violin-and-piano repertory performed in what could be called an idiomatic style should look elsewhere.

These readings do not possess (and do not aim at) the refinement and the delicacy of sentiment achieved by some of the great sonata teams (Thibaud-Cortot on EMI, Francescatti-Casadesus on Sony or Grumiaux-Sebok on Philips) that have recorded these pieces with what could be called a Franco-Belgian orientation.

But composers like to hear their music performed well. One suspects that Franck, Debussy and Faure would have responded positively to performances pitched with the excitement and conviction that Zukerman and Neikrug bring to their work and that most listeners will, too.


To hear excerpts of Pinchas Zukerman and Marc Neikrug performing Faure's "Violin and Piano Sonata No. 1," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6190 after you hear the greeting.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad