Three years ago Joshua Bell released the recording "Romance of the Violin," which soared to the top of Billboard magazine's classical charts and remained there for 50 weeks in a row. For that release, Bell created unique violin arrangements by borrowing from the piano, orchestral and vocal repertoire.
It was the opera arias that Bell felt worked especially well on the violin. With that in mind, Bell went in search of several more beautiful vocal melodies that translated well to the violin. The end result is a new sequel titled "The Voice of the Violin."
Some pieces on "The Voice of the Violin" were discoveries for Joshua Bell, while others have been in the back of his mind for a long time--like the aria "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's opera, "Rusalka."
When it comes to developing the right mood, Joshua Bell says the challenge is, where do you start? Because the violin has a broad range, Bell could easily reach notes the human voice has never known. To find the character he wanted for Dvorak's aria, he chose to start in the violin's middle register. Eventually he added double stops, and changed octaves.
"That's the fun," he says, "to play around with that stuff to find a way to make it feel natural, not overly ornamented yet making it into a vehicle for the instrument, because it's not enough to play the tune on your violin; the fun is in the arrangement."
While the lyrics of these arias are very beautiful and touching, Bell says after while he sheds the words.
"I would be one to subscribe to the fact that the music itself speaks so directly that you don't really need the words to have the effect," he concludes.
Bell looks to great singers for inspiration. By studying the nuances of their technique he's able to produce a similar emotional impact with the violin. There's no mistaking Tchaikovsky's suffering in his song, "None but the Lonely Heart." This is one of Joshua Bell's favorite pieces. His passionate delivery and delicate dynamics accentuate the melancholy melody. With every note I feel him pulling at our heartstrings.
When I first listened to "The Voice of the Violin," I thought this recording ran the risk of being too sentimental. Joshua Bell dismisses that idea. He cites great performers like Paganini, Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz, who frequently arranged works for their own performance. "The Voice of the Violin" is a tribute to that tradition--and an addition to it; Bell says he's glad to have a new collection of encore pieces.
Another of them is the aria, "Why do you wake me?" from Jules Massenet's opera, "Werther." This is the story of a doomed Romantic poet who's in love with his best friend's wife. Bell's eloquent interpretation of the passionate melody articulates Werther's vulnerability, while the Orchestra of St. Luke's provides a lush, well-balanced accompaniment.
On his new release Joshua Bell has mapped out a musical voyage you'll want to experience for yourself. His previous release, "Romance of the Violin," was filled with pieces Bell said he'd want to have with him on a desert island. I wouldn't mind being stranded with a copy of his latest, "The Voice of the Violin." When Joshua Bell's violin speaks, it makes very good company.