French Impressions
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Sonata No. 1 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 75 (1885) [22:29]
Cťsar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano (1886) [27:24]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Sonata for Violin and Piano (1927) [17:05]
Joshua Bell (violin); Jeremy Denk (piano)
rec. Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, 26-29 November 2010
SONY CLASSICAL 88697891822 [67:19]

From the title of this CD and Jeremy Denkís thought-provoking notes, one might assume that the works presented here represent French Impressionism. Yet these are French impressions and not impressionistic in the sense of the art movement. The nicely varied program contains three sonatas that have some things in common with their French coloring, but which also are uniquely their own. The Franck and Ravel are staples of the violin/piano repertoire, while the Saint-SaŽns is less frequently performed but nonetheless representative of the composer within its classical-romantic idiom.
Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk throughout this recital are a team of equals. Bellís tone is absolutely gorgeous and his judicious use of portamento in the Saint-SaŽns and Franck is most appropriate to these works. It does not in the least sound manufactured. Denkís piano tone is equally beautiful and he accompanies most sensitively whenever the violin has the upper hand. The lyricism of the second movement Adagio in the Saint-SaŽns is ravishing, while Bell really throws sparks off in the finale of that work.
There is much competition in the Franck, but it is a real compliment to compare Bell and Denk with the classic Decca recording of Kyung-Wha Chung and Radu Lupu. There really is little to choose between them and the warmer sound of the new recording is an added advantage. Again the balance of violin and piano here is about perfect. The duo capture both the drama and the elegance of the work very well.
Ravelís mature Violin Sonata has always been one my favorite works of the composer. I first heard it many years ago played by Zino Francescatti and Artur Balsam. Of modern interpretations I have a special fondness for Chantal Juillet and Pascal Rogť on an all-Ravel Decca CD. Again, Bell and Denk are every bit as good overall and project the Blues of the middle movement with even greater panache. The piano part reminds me more of the Left-Hand Concerto than I had heretofore realized. The duo color the first movement Allegretto delicately and fully meet the virtuoso requirements of the Perpetuum mobile finaleóthough I could imagine even more abandon there. Theirs is fast and light and does justice to the syncopations.
With such winning performances recorded so well, I can heartily endorse this disc ó even with the production values on the artists rather than the composers. The bookletís cover mentions only them and not the works they are performing. Jeremy Denkís notes are informative and the personal slant he gives them only adds to their interest.

Leslie Wright

Winning accounts of French violin/piano sonatas warmly recorded.