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Édouard LALO (1823–1892)
Symphonie espagnole
(1875) [32:44]
Juan MANÉN (1883–1971)
Concierto español
(1898 rev c.1935) [30:11]
Tianwa Yang (violin)
Barcelona Symphony and Catalonia National Orchestra/Darrell Ang
rec. Pau Casals Hall, L'Auditori, Barcelona, 2017
NAXOS 8.573067 [62:55]

Familiar and unfamiliar concertos are here placed side by side and not for the first time: Koch issued the same coupling with Mark Kaplan as the soloist but I have never seen that disc.

Lille-born Édouard-Victoire-Antoine Lalo attended the Paris Conservatoire. In 1855 he helped found the Quatuor Armingaud-Jacquard and four years later wrote his own String Quartet. The 1870s saw his music being taken up by Pablo de Sarasate who played his F minor Concerto and commissioned the Symphonie espagnole. A Cello Concerto followed, as did the Fantaisie (or Rhapsodie) norvégienne in 1878. After this there was a Concerto russe for violin in the late 1870s. The 1882 ballet Namouna survived only in delectable concert suite form, which was recorded for DG by Martinon in the early 1970s alongside the Rhapsodie Norvégienne and before that by Ansermet. Lalo also did well with his opera Le roi d’Ys (1888). In 2016 Alpha considerately collected all Lalo's concerted works in one 3-CD box.

The stormy violence of the first of Lalo's five movements sweeps the listener along as does the husky-honed scimitar tone of Tianwa Yang. She is just as telling, and I mean moving, in the Symphonie's whispered passages, as, for example, at 3:10 in the first movement. Everyone is on song for the slippery sultry Intermezzo which made me want to find Kogan's recording of the Havanaise by Saint-Saëns. The growling and brooding Wagnerian backdrop created by the orchestra for the Andante sets a contrasting scene for the scintillating sparks that fly left and right through the tic-toc of the Rondo Allegro. Yang has been rightly praised here many times for her Naxos projects (Mendelssohn; Saint-Saëns; Sarasate (review review) and Castelnuovo-Tedesco). Hers is a version to rival the conventional greats at any price. I suppose the Symphonie espagnole suffers from the canker of being unfashionable now but it lives on luxuriantly in this disc version.

Juan Manén was one of those composers who rises up not for what they were famed for during their lives but for a "subsidiary activity". He was an elite violinist (review review) with a worldwide reputation. He played Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and Lalo Symphonie Espagnole to considerable acclaim. He took some hard knocks as a new and more adroitly virtuosic, dangerous generation appeared on the scene. The likes of Heifetz rose up in a world opening up to recording technology in a way that did not bless Manén. The seal was set when his compositions sank from view. That was the case until comparatively recently. His own music includes three violin concertos, of which Concierto español is the first. There are also two symphonies, a symphonic poem Nova Catalonia; six operas including a Don Juan trilogy, two ballets, a piano quartet, a string quartet, and a realisation of Beethoven's otherwise incomplete Violin Concerto in C. Manén will also be remembered for writing a substantial Fantasia-Sonata for Segovia. When in 1971 he died in Barcelona, his birthplace, few came to the funeral. As the excellent liner-notes, by that prince among violin-music writers, Tully Potter, report he "is commemorated by a square in Ciudadela on Menorca and a small but beautiful square in Barcelona."

Manén's atmospheric and heavy-toned Concierto español is an early work which, apart from the darker caste to the ideas in the initial and long Allegretto ben moderato, is a good fit with the Lalo work. The striking midpoint Lamento is Delian in its contented ecstatic musings. It feels more modern and transfixing than the Lalo. Things are brought to a good close by a furiously vituperative Allegro molto.

Rob Barnett


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