Lalo: Symphonie espagnole (CD review)

Also, Ravel: Tzigane; Saint-Saens: Havanaise; Sarasate: Carmen Fantasy. Howard Zhang, violin; Takuo Yuasa, Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia. Naxos 8.555093.

The composers are French and Spanish. The violinist was born in China. The conductor is Japanese. The orchestra is Hungarian. Naxos pressed the disc in Canada. And Naxos originated as a German-based operation, pressing most of its discs in Germany. They don't call Naxos an international company for nothing.

Anyway, you could do a lot worse than spending what Naxos or a secondhand vendor asks for this splendid reissued disc of French and Spanish music. The young violinist, Howard Zhang, was born in Shanghai in 1984, and moved to the U.S. in 1989. He is dynamic and virtuosic; the accompaniment from the Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia under the direction of Tajuo Yuasa appears fairly refined and accommodating; and, best of all, the sound is among the best Naxos has done.

The Symphonie espagnole is especially engrossing, not only because it doesn't get recorded nearly as often as it should but because Mr. Zhang plays it so enthusiastically. Despite its title, the so-called "symphonie" is actually a concerto for violin, and as such it amply displays the violinist's prowess with his instrument. Zhang is quite brilliant, and if his fervor sometimes overrides his subtlety, well, it's the spirit that counts. The performance is full of energy and verve, directly and simply communicated.

The Ravel, Saint-Saens, and Sarasate pieces show Zhang's less passionate side as well, yet still display a good deal of showmanship. While there are already many fine recordings of the Tzigane, Havanaise, and Carmen Fantasy in the catalogue, Zhang's interpretations are at least as persuasive as most of them.

Naxos's sound is wide ranging and reasonably natural. It was only when I put on an old disc of the Symphonie with Tortelier, Fremaux, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (EMI, 1976) that I noticed the extra clarity, definition, and bite in the older recording. But given that the older disc, issued on EMI's Studio label, no longer seems available and is probably hard to find, I have no hesitation recommending this Naxos issue at an affordable price.


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.

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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