Twenty-five years into his career, Joshua Bell is arguably one of the few classical musicians who has attained recognition in popular culture as well as the concert hall. Last year he performed a bit of Vivaldi on the TV show "Dancing With the Stars," and in September he was a judge for the Miss America pageant. His recordings range from straight classical repertoire (as with his 2012 release with Jeremy Denk) to all-star assemblages like the 2009 “At Home with Friends,” which included collaborators like Sting, Josh Groban and Chris Botti.
Bell puts his pop-culture ties to work on his latest venture, a Christmas-themed album, "Musical Gifts From Joshua Bell and Friends,” whose eclectic artist roster includes Kristin Chenoweth, Chick Corea, Michael Feinstein, Renée Fleming, Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss and Plácido Domingo. The album has seen an extensive roll-out campaign, including a concert webcast at Bell's Manhattan apartment last week; he'll make an appearance in The Greene Space at WQXR on Dec. 10.
Tracks of particular interest include a heartfelt version of Schubert's Ave Maria with cellist Steven Isserlis. The cellist along with pianist Sam Haywood team up for a trio version of the final movement of Ernest Bloch’s Baal Shem (Bell's mother is Jewish). Bell summons a gypsy swing sound in "Let it Snow," with guitarist Julian Lage and violinist Rob Moose. Domingo makes a convincing appearance in "O Tannenbaum" while Fleming applies a silky sound to "I Want an Old-Fashioned Christmas." A particular novelty is "Christmas Confusion," a mash-up of Christmas and Hanukkah standards with the comedy duo of Igudesman and Joo. The full comedy routine can be seen in this video:
Joshua Bell et al
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