BARGAIN OF THE MONTH
Pablo SARASATE (1844-1908)
Fantasy on Mozart’s Die Zauberflote, Op 54 [13:08]
Navarra, Op 33 [6:30]
Muineiras, Op 32 [9:57]
Nouvelle fantaisie sur Faust de Gounod, Op 13 [12:04]
Barcarolle vénitienne (Gondoliéra veneziana), Op 46 [9:54]
Introduction and Caprice-Jota, Op 41 [7:15]
Tianwa Yang (violin)
Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra/Ernest Martínez Izquierdo
rec. 30 June-3 July 2009, Baranain Concert Hall, Pamplona, Spain
NAXOS 8.572275 [58:45]
Violinist Tianwa Yang’s series of the complete Sarasate has been absolutely fantastic so far, with surprisingly good music and spectacular solo playing. This is possibly the best volume yet. None of the really famous works are here, but nearly all of these pieces are stunningly good. The program is rewarding, and as for Tianwa Yang—well, I’d say she is better than ever, but is that possible?
Take track 2: “Navarra”, for two violins and orchestra, with Yang, thanks to the miracle of technology, taking both parts. One solo she plays on her Vuillaume violin; the other she plays on the 1842 Vuillaume which was Pablo Sarasate’s own violin. But never mind the historical connection, as exciting as it is: listen to the sound, the electrical sparks which fly all around from the first seconds, the mad current of energy which thrills through that first tune. The two violins blend perfectly, seamlessly, like one instrument. Indeed, if there’s a flaw, it’s that the precision with which the two solos match each other sounds slightly artificial - despite actually being the product of real takes played by a real violinist.
In “Navarra”, Tianwa Yang plays two violins at once. In “Muiñeiras” and the Gounod Faust fantasy, it only sounds like she does! “Muiñeiras” begins with a surprising evocation of bagpipes and Celtic fiddling, with the familiar bass drone and a very Irish folk tune overlaid on top. Both sounds are provided by the violinist, and frankly, I have no idea how this is done - aside from “rarely”: only one other recording of the work is available, and it’s for the piano reduction. That Tianwa Yang actually makes this sound easy, indeed makes it sound fun, is one of the CD’s occasional reminders that this is no ordinary violinist. She plays solo for a full minute before the orchestra steps in, and the joy of “Muiñeiras” is that it sustains its melodic inspiration for the full ten-minute span.
The Faust fantasy opens with that combination of bluster and wit which can be heard in all romantic evocations of the devil. The episodes from Gounod’s opera unfold naturally; I’d rank this alongside Carmen as one of the most effective Sarasate potpourris of operatic tunes. The Magic Flute fantasy captured my attention less, for though Yang sounds spectacular on the composer’s violin, Mozart’s tunes are simply less in keeping with Sarasate’s big romantic style, and a couple of the individual segments wear out their welcomes. The Venetian barcarolle sounds much more exotic than the typical romantic “gondolier song”; a bit like Saint-Saens in north Africa, and Yang squeezes every last drop of lyricism out of its tunes. The final Caprice-Jota is a delightful Spanish finish: it starts with an instantly gorgeous melody, but that’s just the preamble to a deliciously energetic five-minute jota replete with grinning tunes and impossible-sounding double stops. It’s a lovely program, and quite the tour of Europe, from the Pyrenees to Ireland, from Venice to Spain again with a stop at the home of the Queen of the Night.
It’s partly the music on offer that makes this the most satisfying volume yet. I knew nothing of Muiñeiras, the Faust fantasy, or the barcarolle before hearing them and was completely won over. It’s also partly down to the outstanding contributions of the Navarra Symphony Orchestra, whose woodwind soloists are called on for a number of big roles. Sarasate is, in fact, a very good orchestrator, and the ensemble he founded back in 1879 is still very much up to the task. The sound presents an ideal balance between orchestra and soloist.
My previous comments on the “Tianwa Yang sound” still stand: she does indeed have her own style, perfect intonation coupled with a big, rich sound that has none of the graininess or rough texture of lesser lights. And yet she doesn’t have the quicksilver shimmer of players like James Ehnes, either, because her tone is wide and multicolored. It’s at its best in lower registers, mid-portamento - which is joyfully often - and in pianissimo passages or in the pianissimo notes she loves to dip down to in the middle of phrases for ear-catching emphasis. She’s told interviewers that her biggest influences are violinists of the so-called Golden Age, like Joseph Szigeti and Adolf Busch. This album, then, is a sort of time capsule: Pablo Sarasate’s music gloriously restored to its place onstage, performed by his own orchestra and partly on his own violin, by a violinist raised on a long-gone style of playing. Only there is a chance that what we are hearing is not a portal back to a golden age, but the beginning of a new one.
Tianwa Yang’s best Sarasate yet, which is really saying something. Absolutely fantastic.