Whistler’s painting entitled Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Señor Pablo de Sarasate
(1844) conveys a charismatic visionary emerging as an ethereal, waiflike figure out of a black backdrop. With the violin as a sinewy extension of Sarasate’s limber arm, this portrait illumines the centrality of music and the effervescent, yet sensitive nature of Sarasate’s musical character.
We encounter Sarasate’s spontaneity and coalescence of tenacity and timidity in these distinctly Spanish-sounding transcriptions and arrangements. With a selection ranging from Moszkowski’s Guitarra
to Handel’s Largo
this exquisite CD gives voice to the multifarious sentiments and expressions, both of the introvert and of the showman. Violinist Tianwa Yang accompanied by pianist Markus Hadulla re-invigorate these eclectic pieces with an assured contemporariness and tender nostalgia. The listener is left feeling utterly charmed and hankering after Yang’s eloquence and the perfumed bouquet of flowery top-notes.
Sarasate was born on 10 March 1844 in Pamplona, northern Spain. From the age of five, his father, who was a bandmaster, gave him music lessons and the talented Sarasate secured patronage to study in Madrid. At eleven he travelled to Paris to be instructed at the Conservatoire. By his late teens his distinctive style, consisting of direct expression with sparse vibrato, was wowing audiences all over Europe. Lithe, mellifluous, yet mellow, Sarasate was a valorous virtuoso with an instinctive inner-ear. In this recording, Yang dotingly expresses her zesty - and I hasten to add, never overtly sickly - admiration for Sarasate’s genius. Sometimes tender, personal and affectionate (Handel’s Largo
), bewailing and nostalgic (Sarabande
from Leclair’s Sonata
) and spiritedly
mettlesome (Raff’s La fée
), Yang coaxes a banquet of chiaroscuro textures, at once plangent, pithy and piquant from her 1730 Guarneri del Gesu violin. However, in this recording, Yang and Hadulla sound naked and stark. The sound quality is sometimes a little unbalanced as the violin and piano jut and dart rather than saunter or swagger. As a consequence the musical integrity behind the delivery of each phrase is sometimes obscured.
Speaking of Sarasate's idiomatic writing, the playwright and music critic George Bernard Shaw once declared that though there were many composers of music for the violin, there were few composers of violin music. Shaw added that Sarasate's talents as performer and composer, ‘left criticism gasping miles behind him’. Perhaps best known for his Spanish Dances
, this CD allows his Spanish themes and rhythms to emerge with subtlety and inflect different periods, genres and traditions.
When first pressing play for a Sarasate CD, one expects a chivalric jostle, a riotous bull fight, a pub brawl (sawdust and all) between grandiloquence and grit, with an overlay of unfettered emotion. Taking aside the Charlie Chaplin jauntiness of Fryderyk Chopin’s Waltz No. 4
and the somewhat lacklustre sentiment in Moszkowski’s Guitarra,
Yang manages to stand tall against Sarasate’s pieces. Unfortunately, despite Yang’s courageous efforts, etiquette seems to outshine ebullience as she plays with a formulaic gypsy air. Yang is technically flawless but perhaps by being too attentive to these peculiarities the listener feels himself slipping into a pair of polished shoes for a ballroom dance rather than something more rustic and frivolous. These minor blemishes aside, this CD supplements Yang’s extensive repertoire of Sarasate recordings and is a worthy addition.
Despite Chopin being quintessentially Polish, through a rich Hispanic flavouring, we imagine ourselves jocundly whistling a waltz or nocturne as we skip and saunter along the cobbled streets of Sarasate’s beloved Pamplona. The same charisma emerges from Yeng’s recording of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango
By replacing some of the treacly slurs in Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor,
and with a rich and crisp style, Yang’s élan alludes to the duality of hope and defeat in this piece. However, to evoke the unyielding sinister mood evinced through unsettling repetitions, Yang could have made more of Chopin’s lamenting double-stops. In turn this would resonate with Sarasate’s Spanish touch.
Yang conveys Chopin’s silky Nocturne No. 2
with an open humility and richness of sensitivity, rather than an aloof aristocracy so often heard in the playing of Chopin’s nocturnes. This piece, along with Handel’s Largo
and Senaillé’s Allegro
make this CD well worth hearing.
Restoring Joachim Raff’s reputation as a formidable composer of the 19th
century, Yang and Hadulla shimmer and flutter in their performance of La fée d’amour.
Franz Liszt described Raff’s music as ‘leaning towards Mendelssohn, most decidedly towards Wagner, sometimes to Berlioz, in some moments to Italian composers’. Evoking the scene from Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold (The Falling Rocket),
1785, this recording sheds luminescence onto a backdrop of bewailing melody. Hadulla’s brilliant accompanying hints at Eric Satie’s piano compositions; whilst Yang’s final flourish leaves the listener in no doubt that she is a formidable violinist with a gift for acerbic accuracy.
As Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson attended a concert by Sarasate in The Red-Headed League,
it seems fitting to quote Arthur Conan Doyle on the sublime pleasures of the violin and relate them to Tianwa Yang’s crystalline tone: ‘A sandwich and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin-land, where all is sweetness and delicacy and harmony.’ Indeed, one of the most brilliant recordings of this century is Yang’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor
where she attentively captures the magnanimity of sentiment. With a sandwich and coffee, this CD as well as Yang’s recordings of Sarasate’s Concert Fantasies
and Spanish Dances
will certainly not disappoint.
This is the final instalment in Yang’s four disc series of Sarasate’s works for violin and piano. She has only just completed the parallel Naxos Sarasate orchestral set.
Reviews of other Sarasate/Yang releases
Violin & piano: Volume 1
~~ Volume 3
Violin & orchestra: Volume 1
~~ Volume 2
~~ Volume 3
~~ Volume 4