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Track Listing:

Saint- Saens: Son. #1/ Violin & Piano/ Dm,Op 75: 1
Saint- Saens: Son. #1/ Violin & Piano/ Dm,Op 75: 2
Saint- Saens: Son. #1/ Violin & Piano/ Dm,Op 75: 3
Saint- Saens: Son. #1/ Violin & Piano/ Dm,Op 75: 4
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major: 1
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major: 2
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major: 3
Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major: 4
Ravel: Sonata / Violin & Piano: 1
Ravel: Sonata / Violin & Piano: 2
Ravel: Sonata / Violin & Piano: 3

Joshua Bell | Jeremy Denk :

French Impressions



On JOSHUA BELL's new album, FRENCH IMPRESSIONS, Grammy-award-winning violinist Bell and his longtime friend and recital partner, pianist Jeremy Denk offer a passionately nuanced interpretation of works by Saint-Saens, Ravel and Franck.  French Impressions boasts a number of milestones: it's Bell's first CD of sonatas since joining Sony Classical in 1996; it is Bell and Denk's first recital album together, and it's the first commercial recording made at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Produced by multiple Grammy-award-winner Steven Epstein, French Impressions will be released January 10 on Sony Classical and features Camille Saint- Saens Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in D Minor Op 75 (1885); Cesar Franck Violin Sonata in A Major (1886), and Maurice Ravel Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major (1927).

Cesar Franck's Violin Sonata is Bell's homage to his mentor, Josef Gingold, with whom he studied at Indiana University in Bloomington. The sonata honors Bell's lineage as a violinist going back to Belgian violinist Eugene Ysaye for whom Cesar Franck wrote this very piece on the occasion of Ysaye's wedding. Gingold, whom Bell has described as "the most memorable and significant person in my musical life," was a student of the Ysaye, and first introduced Bell to the work at age 12 at his studio.  Bell relishes the memory of Gingold describing and imitating the nuance and charm Ysaye brought to the sonata and today regards Ysaÿe as his "musical grandfather."

"Gingold captivated me with his affection for these three jewels of the violin/piano repertoire --Franck, Ravel, and the Saint-Saens sonatas. This is music notable for its nuance, sensuality, and transcendent beauty, and one's contemplation of these profound works is a life-long journey.  French Impressions is the culmination of my last decade of exploration and performance with pianist Jeremy Denk, and I hope that with this recording we can affect the listener with the same joy and spiritual enrichment that these masterpieces have provided us with over the years," says Bell."

Each of the sonatas features romantic moments which traverse lyrical sweetness to urgent drama and reveal enchantingly complex and challenging layers of sound. Franck's Violin Sonata in A Major, written at the height of the French Bell Epoque, is a work of uncommon beauty and expressive elegance. The oldest of the French composers on the CD, Franck was born in Belgium in 1822, but it was in Paris where he became a citizen and made his career as a composer and teacher at the Paris Conservatoire.  Franck's attention to instrumental music rather than opera made him an influential musical force in his country, with his sonata being regarded as an important component of French chamber repertoire. 

Saint-Saens, born in 1835, was revered as a piano prodigy. At age 13 he crossed paths with Franck upon entering the Paris Conservatoire and it was in Paris where he wrote the Violin and Piano Sonata in D Minor, his first of two, among famous works including "The Swan" and "The Carnival of the Animals." The gentle singing violin motto, heard in the sonata's first and last movements, is believed to have inspired writer Marcel Proust to imagine the "Vinteuil sonata" that is a virtual love theme in the first part of his great novel known in English as Remembrance of Things Past. Today, the Saint-Saens remains one of the most exciting sonatas in the repertoire, the piece features rich sensuality contained with a formal scheme, and a gloriously feverish finale.

Ravel was born in 1875 and lived in Paris after he turned six. His elegant music has him arguably regarded today as a "Post Impressionist." His sonata, at turns ethereal, earthy, abstract and sensual, offers a kaleidoscope of different thrills, as seen in the unexpected yet beautiful blending of genres in the slow "Blues" movement.

Denk and Bell's collaboration was a long time in the making. Denk was entering Indiana University as Bell was graduating; Denk studied with pianist Gyorgy Sebok, whose close friend and esteemed teaching and chamber-music colleague was Josef Gingold. Both Bell and Denk would hear of each other over the years, until they finally performed together at the Spoleto Festival in 2004. They have performed more than 80 recitals since then, including many performances of the works recorded for this CD. When Bell and Denk performed Saint-Saens Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor during their 2010 recital tour, The New York Times raved "Mr. Bell and Mr. Denk gave a passionate performance... There were plenty of fireworks in the whirlwind of the concluding movement." And a Philadelphia critic noted their "equal partnership, with no upstaging." Denk also joined Bell in-studio to perform on the recent At Home with Friends CD.

Mr. Bell and Mr. Denk's CD is unique in being the first commercial recording made at the MIM Music Theater located within the Musical Instrument Museum, a 192,000 square foot complex that includes the 299-seat theater and audio-video enhanced exhibits featuring musical instruments from every country in the world, drawn from MIM's vast collection of over 15,000 instruments and objects. Since its opening on April 24, 2010, MIM has become a significant addition to the worldwide community of museums devoted to music making and musical culture.