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From belcanto to jazz – 150 years of opera phantasies
Antonio BAZZINI (1818-1897)
Fantasia su motivi della Traviata di Giuseppe Verdi op. 50 (1871) [15:17]
Henri VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Norma de Bellini, fantaisie sur la quatrième corde op. 18 (1844) [18:30]
Fantaisie sur Faust de Ch. Gounod (1869)[15:41]
František ONDŘÍČEK (1857-1922)
Fantaisie sur des motifs de'opera 'la vie pour le Czar de Glinka op. 16 (1900) [13:40]
Igor FROLOV (1937-2013)
Concert fantasy on themes from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess op. 19 (1991) [15:52]
Volker Reinhold (violin)
Ralph Zedler (piano)
rec. 2019, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster, Germany
MDG SACD 903 2134-6 [79:05]

After exploring the opera fantasies of Pablo de Sarasate (review ~ review) Volker Reinhold and Ralph Zedler turn to other byways of the literature. Their programme shows the development of the genre from the mid-19th Century to the late 20th century. We hear from violin virtuosi who were both admired by Schumann, a Czech who had close ties with Smetana, Suk and Dvořák and a Russian's take on an American opera.

Although there has been more interest in Antonio Bazzini in recent years with Chloë Hanslip's Naxos CD of selected works (Naxos 8.570800) and the complete opera fantasies on Brilliant classics (95674) amongst others, it is fair to say that his fame as a composer largely rests on his imaginatively virtuosic Scherzo fantastique, la ronde des lutins. The present fantasy could not be more different. Fireworks are absent and in their place is a concentrated study of the opera's heroine. All of the melodies belong to Violetta and aside from bridging passages and brief violin cadenzas the focus is very much on the bel canto of the disc's title.

Vieuxtemps is represented by two works. The fantaisie de Norma, composed by the then twenty-four year old virtuoso, is written for violin on one string, tuned a fourth higher (following Paganini's example in his Fantasy on Rossini's Mosè in Egitto). He manages great feats within this self-imposed restriction and the result is a three-part fantasy, the middle section of which is a series of variations on Oreveso and the Druid's Dell'aura tua profetica. One of these variations was just sketched in the manuscript and Reinhold has completed it idiomatically. The fantaisie sur Faust, composed when he was forty-nine year old, is just as virtuosic but has more development within the music. Thus we have Siebel's aria faites-lui mes aveux, which segues marvellously out of Mephistophélès' Ronde du veau d'or, and travels through several keys before long violin trills lead us to a set of variations on Marguerite's Chanson du Roi de Thulé. The fantasy ends in brilliant style with the famous waltz scene.

The fantasies by Ondříček and Frolov, though treated in very different style, bring us a comprehensive and characteristic picture of their respective subjects. František Ondříček was a Prague born violinist who gave the premiere of Dvořák's Violin concerto, op. 53, in 1883. His fantasy on Glinka's A life for the Tsar opens with a long piano introduction based on the hymn Glory, Glory to you, holy Russia, which is then taken up by the violin in a long passage of double-stopping. Music from the Peasants' Chorus and from Vanya is freely developed in dialogue between the piano and the violin. The work ends with the dance-like theme from Vanya and Susanin's Act 3 duet.

If A life for the Tsar is an opera of the Russian people then surely Porgy and Bess holds the same position in America. Igor Frolov is a Russian violinist from a musical background. His father was a concertmaster and conductor and his mother played for David Oistrakh for whom Frolov was assistant between 1965 and 1971. His hugely entertaining fantasy opens with the melancholy of My man's gone now and concludes with the majestic sweep of Bess, you is my woman now, taking in Summertime, I got plenty o'nuttin' and it ain't necessarily so along the way. Reinhold and Zedler play it with gusto as they do all the works on this disc. Reinhold's technique is impressive but it is his lovely singing tone that thrills me most. I enjoyed this CD and this partnership immensely and look forward to more offerings of the kind.

Rob Challinor

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