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Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Opera Phantasies 2
Fantasy on La Dame Blanche (1825) by F.A. Boieldieu, Op.3 (pub 1866) [11:22]
Souvenirs from Faust (1859) by Charles Gounod (pub 1863) [11:43]
Caprice on Mireille (1864) by Charles Gounod, Op.6 (pub 1866) [10:05]
Romance and Gavotte from Mignon (1866) by Ambroise Thomas, Op.16 [7:30]
New Fantasy from Faust (1859) by Charles Gounod, Op.13 (pub 1874) [14:05]
Fantasy on Don Giovanni (1787) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Op.51 [11:23]
Mosaïque on Zampa (1831) by Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold, Op.15 [11:18]
Volker Reinhold (violin)
Ralph Zedler (piano)
rec. February 2015, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster

It’s good to find that some violinists move beyond the usual ‘Dirty Dozen’ Sarasate pieces, those concert-hall staples that bulk out a fiddler’s programme. Partly this is a result of direct action from record companies – Naxos is the most obvious example - but MDG is to a degree dogging its steps with a release series of its own devoted to the more peripheral elements of Sarasate’s oeuvre. This is the second disc in that series and it’s again devoted to opera phantasies, or fantasias, crafted by the wizardly Pamplonan during his travels. The first volume concentrated on the more popular items, whilst this second one ensures that altogether 13 fantasies are to be heard over the course of the two discs (see review of Volume 1).

We have, inevitably, a roll-call of operas from Boieldieu, Gounod, Thomas and Hérold – though Mozart’s Don Giovanni also features as well. Not all are terribly well known today. At a time when attending operatic performances was not always possible, these violinistic recastings, available at concert prices or via publication, would have come as a boon for the nineteenth-century listener. It was also, rather more to the point, of great help to Sarasate himself as he carved his place in the exquisite Parisian salons of the 1860s. Arranging popular operatic melodies allowed topicality to enter his repertoire and the opportunities for bravura and pathos were considerable.

The fantasy on La Dame Blanche is heard in the piano reduction of Ramón Sobrino with a cadenza by the violinist to be heard in this disc, Volker Reinhold. Sarasate mines the overture and leads on to the cavatina, having his cake and eating it rather adeptly as a result. Sarasate had two bites at Gounod’s Faust. His first, from 1859, is a ‘souvenir’ and opens with some trifling roulades functioning as a free cadenza cum recitative and then gets into ‘All Hail’ sweetly double-stopped before hitting the famous Act II waltz sequence and the rousing ‘Gloire immortelle’ to conclude. The Nouvelle Fantaisie was published just over a decade later. This is more extensive but also includes ‘All Hail’ and ends with the Act II waltz, though Sarasate manages to shoe-horn a number of other passages as well, often rather splendidly.

The Caprice on Gounod’s Mireille was composed in 1866, two years after the opera’s premiere in Paris. This reveals Sarasate’s propensity for elegant legato in the andante passage and the rhythmic vitality enshrined in the polonaise – though it also taxes Reinhold’s bowing in its more strenuous moments. Largely he and Ralph Zedler acquit themselves well in a repertoire that is predicated on panache and not on intellectual depth. When Sarasate turned to Mozart, which he did late in his performing life, he rather subverted expectations in this fantasy – ignoring the Champagne and catalogue arias, and Là ci darem. Instead, possibly with a smirk, he goes his own sweet melodic way drawing on things like Zerlina’s second aria act Vedrai, carino instead of the blockbusters. There are some tuning issues in this performance.

This second disc of fantasies seems to mark the end of this particular mini-series, and I’m not sure if MDG will advance to release an all-Sarasate series of discs, as Naxos has done. Where there is overlap I prefer Tianwa Yang’s Naxos performances which are more dashing and technically on the note, but these MDG performances, nicely recorded and with good supporting documentation allows a close-up look at operatic potpourris in all their self-confidence.

Jonathan Woolf


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