Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie espagnole, Op. 24 (1874) [34:26]
Concerto russe, Op. 29 (1879) [33:04]
Yuzuko Horigome (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice/Marco Guidarini
rec. no details supplied
CLASSIC TALENT DOM 2910 904sp [67:30]

It's always worth noting when a maestro, as the expression goes, has "something to say"; so, while this album is clearly intended as a showcase for violinist Yuzuko Horigome - and, one hopes, for the repertoire - I'm going to discuss the conducting first.

If you think of the Symphonie espagnole as a deservedly fading chestnut, this performance will make you reconsider: rarely do you hear the piece conducted and played so attentively. Marco Guidarini's attention to trim attacks and releases produces string textures that are clear, transparent, and rhythmically well-defined; as a result, the tuttis sound unusually compact. Within this framework, woodwinds take their place with a clean, airy presence - though in the Scherzando, I'd have preferred more forward detail: the bassoon, particularly, sounds reticent - and the brasses pack a nice punch in the climaxes. For the bigger-boned Concerto russe - really a five-movement suite, although the fourteen-minute opening movement is of concerto dimensions - the conductor changes tactics, drawing a weightier sonority, with more cushioned attacks and accents.

All this is not intended to disparage Horigome's playing. Her tone is not exceptionally large, but her firm bowing and purposeful musicality assure that every phrase registers. She leans into the peaks of lyric lines ardently, and tapers her tone to maintain a vibrant purity in the upper reaches, where her intonation is mostly spot-on. It's only as the lines descend that Horigome's tuning can become less exact: note how the cadence at 6:02 of the Symphonie's Intermezzo goes sour.

The music is most enjoyable - as melodic and colorful as Saint-SaŽns, without the portentous overlay. Although Lalo composed the Symphonie espagnole for the legendary Pablo de Sarasate, he himself didn't feel there was anything particularly "Spanish" about it. It's hard not to get a Latin flavor, however, from the rumba-like triplet-plus-duplet rhythmic pattern that dominates the first movement and Intermezzo, and from the rollicking theme of the concluding Rondo. Conductor and soloist inject a measure of sultry languor where they can, which helps with the illusion, and they don't let the momentum flag. The fourth, Andante, movement sounds most substantial here. Imposing, full-throated brass chorales establish a serious mood, with the violin answering gently and reflectively; as the movement builds, Horigome elicits controlled passion from the vaulting leaps. In the Rondo, Guidarini delicately daubs in the orchestral detail under the violin at 4:37.

The Concerto russe, similarly, isn't particularly "Russian" in overall feeling, though some themes in the long first movement have stark, incisive rhythmic contours that some may hear as such, and the chorale-like orchestral writing in the second movement is redolent of Russian chant. An older performance, with violinist Jean-Pierre Wallez and conductor Kazuhiro Koizumi (Peters International PLE-005, a U.S. LP), sounded colorful but generic. The new account, more assertively shaped, thus sounds more purposeful and cogent.

The catch is that collectors and completists will need to hold on to the Peters LP (or its European equivalent), or to hunt it down if they don't have it already. That program offered the composer's Concerto in F, also dedicated to Sarasate, which, to my knowledge, isn't otherwise available. It may not be an "important" acquisition, but it's worth having.

The booklet needed work. Both the note on the composer and Horigome's biography sound rather hamfistedly translated from the French - by someone who knew French better than English syntax - while the note on Guidarini incorporates several careless errors: "Genua" for "Genoa" (twice), "Il barbieri di Siviglia" for "Il barbiere...," "PaŽn" for "PaŽr."

Stephen Francis Vasta

Assertively shaped, purposeful and cogent.