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Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Opera Phantasies
Fantasy on Carmen by Bizet [13:33]
Fantasy on Der Freischütz by Weber [12:19]
Fantasy on The Magic Flute by Mozart [13:25]
Fantasy on Martha by Flotow [11:50]
Fantasy on La forza del Destino by Verdi [9:27]
Fantasy on Romeo and Juliet by Gounod [13:40]
Volker Reinhold (violin); Ralph Zedler (piano)
rec. Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, 13-15 February 2013

This CD offers a generous playing time and starts with the well-known Carmen Fantasy. One is immediately aware of the brilliant recording quality. Violin and piano are well balanced and the violin has a “reach out and touch” realism that is most impressive. The downside to such realism is that the violinist is positioned under a bright spotlight that cruelly emphasises the smallest slips in execution. Players in the Heifetz league would have had no problems in this environment. Unfortunately, Ralph Reinhold - admittedly a fine player - isn’t quite in this super class.

The opening of the Bizet, performed rather aggressively, demonstrates those minor limitations. The sul G intonation isn’t perfect and the fearsome double-stopping passages don’t possess the kind of perfection that you can hear from the amazing Tianwa Yang in her Naxos Sarasate series. Yang throws off the virtuoso passages with little or no apparent effort. There’s more to it than that, though. Her tone remains creamy, clear and warm throughout and not once is there the slightest hint of strain. Her artistry is never in doubt. Volker Reinhold by comparison does sound stretched at times and under technical pressure the violin tone suffers. With Yang everything sounds easy. With Reinhold you are aware that this is technically difficult music to play and not everything is comfortable to listen to.

Musically, all these fantasies have their attractions but played one after another an element of monotony sets in. The Bizet is more successful in its orchestral version. Sarasate’s piano part is dull and uninspired, offering little by way of tonal contrast compared to a symphony orchestra. Throughout the CD the piano is very much treated as a supporting accompanist rather than an equal partner but this isn’t a reflection on Ralph Zedler, more a comment on the parts he has been given to play. Der Freischütz is an inventive and interesting piece. Listeners who don’t know the opera will immediately recognise many of the themes used by Sarasate in his Fantasy They are taken from Weber’s well known overture. I enjoyed The Magic Flute best of the lot. Sarasate resisted the temptation of including the Queen of the Night arias. Heaven forbid what they would have sounded like on a violin. Instead, he wisely concentrated on the wonderful melodies given to us by Tamino, Pamina and Papageno, in turn melancholic and playful. The result is a delight. Martha is rather touching with its inclusion of two well known, timeless melodies - the tenor aria Ach, so fromm and the beautiful Last Rose of Summer.

This is an enjoyable CD but on repeated listening the intonation problems and patches of insecurity become too obvious. As a recording it is exceptional. If it’s the music that comes first — as it surely must — I recommend Yang’s Naxos series with no reservations whatsoever. Reinhold is good, Yang is in a class apart.

John Whitmore