Joshua Bell’s many admirers can rest assured that he is at his most tonally lustrous and musically seductive throughout this generous collection of lighter musical fare on the reflective side. How often one would wish to play the album through at a single sitting is open to question – after a while even Bell’s silky smooth sheen does begin to pall a little – but dipped into, say, three or four tracks at a time, there is no denying the sheer class of this radiantly engineered collection.
The soft-focusing (with attendant excited outbursts) of Eleanor Rigby is not an experience I shall ever wish to repeat, nor Sting’s somewhat blandissimo contribution to Dowland’s Come Again. Turn the coin, however, with the two tracks featuring master bandoneónist Carel Kraayenhof (Oblivion and Il postino) and Bell’s enraptured phasing is so expressively potent that it is difficult to keep one’s finger off the repeat button. No less haunting is Rachmaninoff’s O Cease Thy Singing Maiden Fair (beautifully sung by Nathan Gunn in English) and Richard Rodgers’s I’ll take Manhattan with Marvin Hamlisch, throughout which Bell’s exquisite use of portamento and effortless timing of phrases are quite exemplary. Make no mistake, unlike so many ‘classical’ pretenders who have stumbled before him in this repertoire, Bell is the real thing