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Opera Fantasies for Violin
Jenö HUBAY (1858–1937)
Fantaisie brillante on Bizet’s Carmen, Op. 3, No. 3 ¹ ² [8:14]
Joachim RAFF (1822–1882)
Duo on themes from Wagner’s Lohengrin, Op. 63, No. 3 ¹ ² [9:12]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882–1971) arr. Samuel DUSHKIN (1891–1976)
Parasha’s Aria from Mavra ¹ ² [3:15]
Osvaldo GOLIJOV (b. 1960) arr. GOLIJOV/Stephen PRUTSMAN (b. 1960)
Desde mi ventana (From My Window) from Ainadamar ¹ ² ³ * [7:41]
Kurt WEILL (1900–1950) arr. Stefan FRENKEL (1902–1979)
Song of Human Insufficiency/Mack the Knife (Seven Pieces from The Threepenny Opera, No. 1) ¹ ² [3:01]
Stephen PRUTSMAN (b. 1960)
Fantasy Extract on Themes from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier ¹ ² * [15:56]
Nicolò PAGANINI (1782–1840)
I Palpiti: Introduction and Variations on Di tanti palpiti from Rossini’s Tancredi ¹ ² [11.00]
Georges BIZET (1838–1875) arr. Benjamin LOEB (b. 1966)
Au fond du temple saint from Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) ¹ ² º * [5:08]
Edouard LALO (1823–1875) arr. Joseph SZIGETI (1892–1973)
Aubade: Vainement, ma bien-aimée from Le roi d’Ys ¹ ² [2:49]
Livia Sohn (violin)¹, Benjamin Loeb (piano)², Geoff Nuttall (violin³ / violaº)
rec. Performing Arts Centre, The Country Day School, Ontario, Canada, 20-23 March 2006
NAXOS 8.570202 [66:15]

Violinist Livia Sohn has an impressive CV with appearances with over seventy orchestras on five continents. She won First Prize in the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition when she was twelve and has studied with, among others Felix Galimir. Like so many other young musicians she has technical brilliance in abundance and her playing is confident and musical. She plays on a J.B. Guadagnini violin of 1770, which doesn’t sound to be among the most powerful instruments in the business, but it is pliant and lean, although occasionally a bit wiry – or is it the recording? I wouldn’t think so with Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver in charge.

The music is another matter. Medleys, fantasies, variations or pure transcriptions of opera melodies for any number of instruments were in vogue during the 19th century and to a lot of people the only way of hearing such music at all. Sometimes they tended to be more vehicles for the player(s) to show off their technical brilliance and Hubay’s Carmen Fantasy is a good example, Hubay being one of the leading violinists of the day. So if you wish to just sit back in your best chair and just indulge in stunning wizardry, start from the beginning – and you get many of the best melodies from the opera in the bargain.

Joachim Raff was an important composer in the mid-18th century, not least as a symphonist, but today he is largely forgotten. He wrote three duos on themes from Wagner operas and the third of them was based on Lohengrin, where the Wedding March is the dominating theme. Honest and beautiful music, though for listeners familiar with the originals a bit watered down.

The aria from Stravinsky’s Mavra isn’t very enticing at all. The piano accompaniment is monotonous to the verge of tedious and also the violin part is repetitive with only a few breaks and changes of direction.

The Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov wrote an opera based on the life of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, Ainadamar, which was premiered at the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music in August 2003. It was later recorded by Deutsche Grammophon, receiving two Grammy Awards. Desde mi ventana is the first solo that Lorca sings in the opera, and the transcription of it on this disc is the first transcription ever from the opera. It is mainly lyrical and contemplative. Not having heard the opera I have no idea of what the original sounds like but this is undoubtedly atmospheric music. Ms Sohn and and Benjamin Loeb are here joined by Geoff Nuttall for a fuller sound.

The two songs from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera are woven together as a kind of double rondo and it is the suggestive melodies that carry this composition. The longest piece on the disc, Stephen Prutsman’s Fantasy Extract on Themes from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was actually the composition that caught my attention most of all. Strauss’s score is of course one of the marvels of colourful orchestration and I was constantly surprised how well Prutsman manages to reproduce the richness of the original – if not in all its vivid colours but in atmosphere.

For sheer virtuosity and melodic sweetness Paganini is of course hard to beat. Whether borrowing themes, as here, or writing his own, he always extracts phrases that seem close to syrupy but he almost always manages to steer clear from getting stuck in treacle. In these variations on the famous aria from Tancredi Livia Sohn is forced to show her hand – and it is a full hand!

The concluding pieces, from The Pearl Fishers and Le roi d’Ys are more or less straight forward transcriptions of well known pieces for violin and piano, with Geoff Nuttall’s viola adding the baritone voice for the Bizet duet.

While I won’t pretend that this is indispensable music it is good to have it available and added value lies in the fact that three of the works here get their first recording. Violin fanciers and opera lovers alike should derive a lot of pleasure from this disc.

Göran Forsling 



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