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Technically brilliant, musically rather awful
on 26 April 2014
With the orchestra under the mighty Salonen, I expected so much of this recording. Whilst the playing is technically fantastic, and the production balances the orchestra and soloist perfectly, Bell's interpretation shows a distinct lack of understanding of what Sibelius is all about: the melancholic, brooding and somewhat anxious colourings are not captured.
First movement started well and I was anticipating the cadenza eagerly: what a let down it was! There was no storminess and forward-movement in the arpeggios, instead they were played like a beautiful technical exercise. The over-arching phrasing was chopped apart by the fact that each arpeggio seemed to stop at the top. Compare this with the Sibelius-genius of Kavakos, and you will know what I mean.
The second movement is simply awful. Too fast, phrasing is choppy and the sound weak: Bell has this irritating manner of bloating the long notes in the middle by only applying vibrato in the middle of the note. This cuts the phrasing apart. This movement is all about the big sound and long phrases, the deep long notes climbing up to the very top, where a brief moment of pause is broken by the slowly-descending, exposed octaves. None of this emotion was present here.
The third movement was technically and production-wise brilliant. Bell has phenomenal technique, the clarity and ease of which really shines here. But then, the third movement is musically the most approachable of them all.
I would not recommend this recording as it doesn't capture the sentiment and the history of Finland, and it doesn't evoke the patriotic, melancholic yet hopeful emotions this piece is all about, and the tonal variety is rather inappropriately applied throughout. This is a real shame as I really rate Salonen when it comes to Sibelius; it feels as if he has sold out to the soloist here. (I am speaking as a Finnish violinist myself).