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Musical Gifts - From Joshua Bell and Friends
Full contents and artist list at end of review
No recording dates given
SONY CLASSICS 88883762832 [62:46]

March may not be the best time of the year to review a disc with Christmas music but the music-making here is on a technical and artistic level that makes the disc interesting at any time of the year. 
The common denominator is Joshua Bell’s superb violin playing and he has at various times gathered friends from various genres contributing to an appetizing Christmas Smorgasbord, where we can pick and choose among the delicatessen. Maybe one can’t consume all the dishes at one sitting, maybe there are dishes one will avoid next time too - but that’s the nature of any smorgasbord. Personally I will probably skip O Holy Night, in spite of the superb violin playing, but the singing is too mannered for my taste. Others may feel differently.
 
Among the highlights I must mention God rest ye merry gentlemen, where the voice and the violin blend so beautifully and the flageolet tones in the interlude are angelic. Let it snow evokes memories of Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt improvising together in the 1930s. The superb duo playing of Bell and Corea in Greensleeves is also something to savour. The Nutcracker Medley - a fine and fun arrangement executed with impressive precision by the vocal group - will make fine listening in front of the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The interplay between violin and cello in Fauré’s Ave Maria is also fascinating - and it’s good that they included something unhackneyed. Renée Fleming sings beautifully in I want an old-fashioned Christmas and she doesn’t over-sentimentalize the song either. There is classy trumpet playing in White Christmas and Plácido Domingo proves in O Tannenbaum that his voice is still in near-mint condition. However, his singing lacks nuance and someone should have talked to him about his German pronunciation; O Taaaanenbaum doesn’t sound very German.
 
Bloch’s Baal Shem is an unexpected number but it turns out, with superior musicianship, to be one of the true highlights.

Most listeners will be able to find something to savour here, but to avoid indigestion I suggest that the disc be consumed in small helpings.
 
Göran Forsling 


Full contents and artist list 
Trad. (arr. Rob Moose)
1. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen [3:11]
Alison Krauss (vocal), Joshua Bell (violin), Rob Moose (nylon and tenor guitars)
Jule STYNE (1905 - 1994) (arr. Rob Moose)
2. Let it Snow [3:46]
Joshua Bell (violin), Julian Lage (guitar), Rob Moose (tenor guitar), Michael Aarons (guitar), Chris Lightcap (bass), William Holhouser (accordion)
Walter KENT (1929 - 1994) Kim GANNON (1900 - 1974) (arr. Frankie Moreno, Joshua Bell, Rob Moose)
3. I’ll Be Home for Christmas [3:58]
Frankie Moreno (vocal, piano), Joshua Bell (violin)
Trad. (arr. Chick Corea)
4. Greensleeves [4:18]
Joshua Bell (violin), Chick Corea (piano)
Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893) (arr. Walter Chase, Kenji Bunch)
5. Nutcracker medley [3:41]
Straight No Chaser (vocals), Joshua Bell (violin)
Trad. (arr. Frank McComb)
6. Amazing Grace [4:28]
Joshua Bell (violin), Branford Marsalis (tenor saxophone), Frank McComb (piano, B3 organ), Anthony Michael Peterson (guitar), Christian Sharp (bass), Orlandus Perry (drums)
Adolphe ADAM (1803 - 1856) (arr. J.A.C. Redford)
7. O Holy Night [3:06]
Kristin Chenoweth (vocal), Joshua Bell (violin), Grace Paradise (harp)
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845 - 1924) (arr. Steven Isserlis)
8. Ave Maria [4:13]
Joshua Bell (violin), Steven Isserlis (cello), Francis Grier (organ)
Fay FOSTER (?) Florence TARR (?) (arr. Rob Moose)
9. I Want an Old-Fashioned Christmas [3:16]
Renée Fleming (vocal), Joshua Bell (violin), Thomas Bartlett (piano), Rob Moose (guitar), Jeremy Turner (cello)
Irving BERLIN (1888 - 1989) (arr. gil Goldstein)
10. White Christmas [4:08]
Joshua Bell (violin), Chril Botti (trumpet), Billy Childs (piano), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Shawn Pelton (drums)
Trad. (arr. J.A.C. Redford)
11. O Tannenbaum [3:55]
Plácido Domingo (vocal), Joshua Bell (violin), Oren Fader (guitar), Ted Ackerman (cello), Mick Rossi (harmonium)
Ernest BLOCH (1885 - 1977) (arr. Kenji Bunch, Joshua Bell)
12. Baal Shem: Simchat Torah (Rejoicing) [4:49]
Joshua Bell (violin), Steven Isserlis (cello), Sam Haywood (piano)
Jimmy Van HEUSEN (1913 - 1990) Sammy CAHN (1913 - 1993) (arr. Tedd Firth)
13. The Secret of Christmas [4:55]
Michael Feinstein (vocal), Joshua Bell (violin), Tedd Firth (piano), Kate Davis (bass), Grace Paradise (harp)
Manny KURTZ (1911 - 1984) Frances Philip MILITARY (?) arr. Jorge Gomez, Kenji Bunch)
14. Christmas Auld Lang Syne [3:28]
Gloria Estefan (vocal), Joshua Bell (violin), Jorge Gomez (keyboards), Leandro Gonzáles (congas), Wilvi Rodrigues (bass), Israel Morales Figueroa (drums), Xavier Mili, Larisa Mertinez (vocals)
Aleksey IGUDESMAN (b. 1973)
15. Christmas Confusion [4:11]
Joshua Bell (violin), Aleksey Igudesman (violin), Hyung-ki Joo (piano)
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787 - 1863) (arr. Francisco Nuñes, Rob Moose)
16. Silent Night [3:24]
Joshua Bell (violin), Young People’s Chorus of New York City/Francisco Nuñes 

rec. various venues, New York City and London (trs. 8, 12), Madrid (tr. 11), Miami (tr. 14), Vienna (tr. 15)
 


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