Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Music for Violin and Orchestra - Vol. 1
Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 (version for violin and orchestra) (1878) [8:57]
Airs Espagnols, Op. 18 (version for violin and orchestra) (1892) [9:46]
Miramar, Op. 42 (version for violin and orchestra) (1899) [3:55]
Peteneras, Op. 35 (version for violin and orchestra) (1894) [7:01]
Nocturne - serenade, Op. 45 (1901) [6:23]
Viva Sevilla!, Op. 38 (version for violin and orchestra) (1896) [7:48]
Fantasie sur la Dame Blanche, Op. 3 (1866) [9:39]
Tianwa Yang (violin)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra/Ernest Martínez Izquierdo
rec. Concert Hall, Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, 1-5 September 2008
NAXOS 8.572191 [53:29]
The Spaniard violinist Sarasate studied at the Paris Conservatoire in the late 1850s and walked off with all the prizes. His career got off to a rather insignificant start, as a warm-up act to flamboyant singers in recital, but he used this experience to good effect and to his own advantage, so much so that during the course of his own career he became one of the highest paid virtuosi of all time. He wrote and played many fantasies on popular tunes, familiar operas and his own original melodies; he was a phenomenal technician and a brilliant showman. This disc begins with his greatest and most popular work, Zigeunerweisen, and from it - as well as the surviving recordings he made at the end of his life - we can deduce that he played with a warmth of tone (considerable vibrato), subtle delicacy and above all with an outrageously technical skill. At times one is sure there are two players at work. Albert Spalding commented that Sarasate’s violin ‘sang like a thrush, and his incomparable ease tossed aside difficulties with a grace and insouciance that affected even his gestures’. Speaking of his gestures, he was a notorious attention-seeker on the concert platform. When awaiting his next entry while the orchestra played alone, he would ensure that the audience continued to look at him, not the conductor and his players, by holding his instrument aloft in his left hand halfway along its neck, then let it drop until the pegs encountered his hand, producing an involuntary gasp from the public who were convinced it was on a descending journey of destruction.
Like his even more famous forebear Paganini, it’s easy to dismiss Sarasate’s music as shallow, and discs like this can be tedious because the music has a formulaic structure, which worked well in its day, but even then a procession of seven works would not have been played in a concert. Today one of them might serve as a substantial encore. The other truism is that no player attempts such music unless they are blessed with a phenomenal technique. There are no half measures when it comes to this music - either you can play it or you can’t. The Chinese Tianwa Yang - who has also recorded some of Sarasate’s music for violin and piano (review) - certainly can, and makes it all sound both easy and natural. She has bold tone, a bright sound and immaculate clarity in her left hand pizzicato; her conductor and orchestral accompanists accurately follow her weaving rubato. The delicate understatement of Viva Sevilla (track 7) is a highlight. It may all be a surfeit of paella maybe, but it makes a tasty dish all the same, and there’s also a second volume now (8.572216 - see review) which starts with the famous Carmen Fantasy. Tianwa Yang is a name to look out for. 

Christopher Fifield 

A tasty dish.