Lalo: Symphonie espagnole (CD review)

Also, Saint-Saens: Violin Concerto No. 3; Ravel:  Tzigane. Maxim Vengerov, violin; Antonio Pappano, Philharmonia Orchestra. Warner Classics.

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 √©lan. 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:

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa