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JOSHUA BELL, VIOLIN, JOHN CONSTABLE, HARPSICHORD, ACADEMY OF ST. MARTIN IN THE FIELDS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA; Vivaldi: "The Four Seasons"; Tartini: "Devil's Trill" Sonata (Sony Classical)

AHN TRIO; "Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac" (RCA Red Seal)

Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" is without question the most-recorded work on the planet.

Ever popular with violinists and audiences, new recordings of the work pop up constantly. And now wonderboy violinist Joshua Bell has added yet another one to the list.

Since Bell has been marketed as the greatest thing to have happened to classical music since equal temperament, Sony has been touting this recording as a must have.

And that, quite honestly, is true — if you happen to be a devoted Bell fan, that is (and his fan club is huge). Otherwise, skip it and find another recording (there are plenty from which to choose).

Bell has his own take on "Four Seasons," and it's not always very successful. The main problem with his interpretation is its lack of conviction. As played by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra, the music sounds sparse and lean, with a period instruments feel to it. But Bell's playing is effusively romantic. And these two playing styles just aren't compatible.

Compounding the problem are some quirky little things Bell has the orchestra do — such as sudden dynamic changes, accents where they're not needed, unusual tempo shifts — that distract from the listening experience and are simply irritating.

The companion piece on this album, Tartini's "Devil's Trill" Sonata, suffers the same fate as "The Four Seasons." Bell's romantic expressions and articulation don't pair well with John Constable's refined and polished harpsichord playing. Once again, Bell tries to be different and fails.


The Ahn Trio is one of the hottest chamber groups around, both in its popularity in general and in its appeal to younger audiences in particular.

Almost right from the start of their professional career, sisters Angella, Lucia and Maria Ahn have tried to reinvent the piano trio medium by commissioning new pieces and by playing arrangements of everything from classical music to Broadway and pop tunes.

The trio manages to get away with it because they're good. They are incredibly talented musicians who put passion into their playing and are completely dedicated to what they do — and they do it with conviction, because they believe in themselves.

Having made that statement, I should say the Ahn Trio's newest album, "Lullaby for My Favorite Insomniac," while it continues their tradition of playing nontraditional piano trio music, has its shortcomings. The 16 tracks have a wide range of music, from Kenji Bunch (the trio's favored composer) to Richard Rodgers, Astor Piazzolla, Michael Nyman, David Bowie and others. It's a beautifully conceived and executed album, but it quickly wears thin. The idea behind the CD is good, but it doesn't have the substance needed to sustain it.

Unfortunately, the album's title hits a little too close to home — it puts you to sleep long before the music is over.


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