Sarasate: Music for Violin and Orchestra, Vol. 1 (CD review)
Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908) was a virtuosic Spanish violinist who was also a noted composer (or vice versa). On this disc we get seven of his short violin works for orchestral accompaniment, played by violinist Tianwa Yang, who previously recorded several highly regarded Naxos albums of Sarasate's music for violin and piano. The addition of the orchestra only makes a good thing better.
The album begins with Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), one of the most famous pieces of "gypsy" music in existence, coming to life and showing its stuff in the second half after a lengthy introduction. It's the kind of work that puts a violinist's full range of abilities on display, and Ms. Yang comes though unscathed. Both she and the Orquesta Sinfonia de Navarra shine, lighting up the room with their electricity. One hardly notices the orchestra, though, what with Ms. Yang putting on such an exhibition of technical prowess.
The Airs espagnols that follows is, for me, an even better piece of music than Zigeunerweisen, although it never attained the popularity. The Airs espagnols perfectly captures the spirit of the Spanish countryside in a series of delightful folk tunes and original melodies. For this brief, ten-minute, work alone the disc is worth its budget price.
The other music falls in line, with the Peteneras: Capriccio espagnol among the most multifaceted and lively, and the Nocturnes-serenade acting as a sort of calming rest stop in the procession of pyrotechnics on display in the rest of the music.
The sound that Naxos engineers capture is close and highly impressive, suiting the sweep of the music-making. Although it does not exhibit a lot of orchestral depth, it does produce a clear, sharply defined presence, with excellent dynamics. Fortunately, there are no traces of edginess, brightness, or glassiness to the sonics, so despite the closeness of the recording, things remain fairly smooth and warm throughout.
Trivia note: Sarasate himself founded the Navarra Symphony Orchestra in 1879, making it the oldest active ensemble in Spain and, therefore, wholly appropriate to playing the man's music.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.