The Best of Joshua Bell: The Decca Years
On this three-disc Best of Joshua Bell collection, the Decca label basically delivers what it promises, and is even generous about it. True, nothing actually tells you that the "Decca years" were from the first part of Bell's career, but the various boyish photos of Bell should get the point across. Bell started out like most young violinists, recording standard concerto repertory with a pure tone that did not foreclose strong forward momentum. Of his various forbears among violinists of the twentieth century, Henryk Szeryng is perhaps underestimated for his importance. The third disc in the set shows Bell developing the style that has made him famous, applying his high-flying playing to Fritz Kreisler and the other composers of violin encore pieces that were forgotten during the era of high modernism. It's been a potent combination, and one that was by no means obvious when Bell was young. In fact, the third CD, "Favorites," may appeal even to owners of Bell's later discs covering the same territory; there's a snap in, say, his reading of Kreisler's "Caprice viennois" (CD 3, track 8), that comes from the consciousness he was rediscovering all this delightful stuff that was consigned to the dustbin by tight-lipped modernism. Check out also the thoroughly corny and thoroughly enjoyable "Waves at Play (Wellenspiel)" of Edwin Grasse (CD 3, track 10). In between the standards and the favorites comes a disc of chamber performances that, if they don't exactly qualify as rarities, may at least be missing from many Bell collections. The set as a whole collects recordings that made Bell's reputation, and fans and collectors will welcome the chance to have a wide variety of them in one place.