Lalo: Symphonie espagnole (CD review)
Maybe at the time I wrote this review it was French composer Edouard Lalo's (1832–92) turn in the sun. I had no sooner reviewed a Naxos disc of the Symphonie espagnole, saying it didn't get recorded nearly as often as it should, than this 2003 release of the Symphonie arrived from EMI with Maxim Vengerov playing the violin, Antonio Pappano directing, and Philharmonia Orchestra in support. If I had some minor qualifications about the Naxos issue, I had no such reservations about the EMI and can continue to recommend it heartily, reissued under its new label, Warner Classics.
The Symphonie espagnole, which despite its title is actually a concerto for violin, is fine, of course, and Vengerov plays it with appropriate sparkle, polish, and élan. But it's really the accompanying piece, the Third Violin Concerto by French composer and pianist Camille Saint-Saens (1835–1921), that knocked me over, especially the work's slow middle movement, the Andantino. I've seldom heard it sound so ravishingly beautiful and expressive. It's probably the one piece by Saint-Saens that comes closest to the serene loveliness of his "Swan" from the Carnival of the Animals, and Vengerov makes the most of it.
Anyway, Vengerov produces a ravishing tone with his violin, and Pappano and the Philharmonia Orchestra provide sympathetic support in both works. Along with a brilliant performance of Maurice Ravel's Tzigane, Rhapsody de concert the program makes a most-attractive hour or so of music making.
Like the Naxos disc I had listened to previously, the EMI disc sounds wide ranging and natural, but with the added benefit of greater clarity. For this review, I compared the 2003 EMI to an older, 1976 EMI disc of the Symphonie with violinist Yan Pascal Tortelier, Maestro Louis Fremaux, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, plus a newer, 2013 Warner Classics disc with violinist Alexandre Da Costa, Maestro Carlos Kalmar, and the Orquesta Sinfonica de Ratio Television Espanola. Here, it was the Vengerov disc that sounded slightly more open and more transparent to me. I still have no hesitation recommending the Naxos, the earlier EMI, the later Warner Classics disc, or even some real oldies including Heifetz and Stern, among others, but if one wants to sample all of the best, the Vengerov disc (as I say, now available from Warner Classics, who took over the EMI label) is well worth one's investment of time and money.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
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.