Sarasate: Opera Phantasies, Volume 2 (SACD review)

Volker Reinhold, violin; Ralph Zedler, piano. MDG 903 1909-6.

You'll remember that about a year earlier, violinist Volker Reinhold and pianist Ralph Zedler made a recording of six opera fantasies by the Spanish composer and virtuoso violinist Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). With the present album they have given us seven more of Sarasate's fantasies, completing the number the composer wrote. Although the selections on volume two are not quite as famous as those on volume one, it is perhaps understandable, and the works are certainly as commendable.

First, however, a word about the artists, of whom you may not know much more than I told you last time. Since 1989 violinist Volker Reinhold has been the concertmaster of the Mecklenburg State Orchestra, which performs operas, operettas, musicals, ballets, and concerts at the Mecklenburg State Theater in Schwerin, Germany. According to his Web site, Mr. Reinhold "has gone on to perform a wide range of solo assignments and to dedicate himself intensively to chamber music. Additionally, for some years he has often assisted as a concertmaster with several Northern German orchestras. He has a special predilection for the virtuosic violin literature, above all Fritz Kreisler and also Pablo de Sarasate. He has incorporated practically all of the former's music into his repertoire. For many years he has performed successfully with his regular piano partner Ralph Zedler. Mr. Reinhold performs on a 'Mougeot,' a French violin from the nineteenth century."

"In 1999 pianist Ralph Zedler graduated from Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. He worked regularly in the singing classes of Liselotte Hammes, Klesie Kelly, Kurt Moll, Edda Moser. From the autumn of 1999 to January 2011 Mr. Zedler was engaged at the Mecklenburg State Theatre in Schwerin as soloist and Ballettrepetitor, participating in over seventy productions of opera, operetta, musical, oratorio, and ballet. Since 2011 he has worked at capital Opera, the smallest Opera Berlin devoting himself to the repertoire of forgotten one-act plays. Mr. Zedler's concert career has taken him along with prominent figures such as singers Agnes Giebel, Ulrich Hielscher, Jean van Ree, and Edda Moser."

On the album under review, Reinhold and Zedler offer, as I say, seven more Sarasate fantasies. Since Sarasate loved to dazzle his audiences with his virtuosic pyrotechnics, what better way to do so than by playing some of his own transcriptions of already famous music. The program Reinhold and Zedler present here includes concert-fantasy arrangements for violin and piano of La Dame Blanche by Francois-Adrien Boieldieu; two fantasies on Faust by Charles Gounod; Mirelle by Gounod; Mignon by Ambrose Thomas; Don Juan (Don Giovanni) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and Zampa by Ferdinand Herold.

Volker Reinhold
Volker Reinhold plays a mean fiddle; yet he is no extrovert showman for its own sake. Now, understand, Sarasate arranged these pieces to show off his brilliant playing ability, so understandably there is going to be plenty of opportunity for any soloist to demonstrate his worth. But, as I say, while Reinhold is a consummate violinist, he never seems to want to draw too much attention to himself but rather to the music. This means that while you may find greater pyrotechnics from other violinists, you'll find none who demonstrate the value of the music better than Reinhold.

In addition, Ralph Zedler's piano accompaniment always complements Reinhold's violin. There is neither a lagging letdown in Zedler's playing nor any attempt at upstaging. It is, after all, the violin that should be center stage in these pieces, and even though Zedler is an excellent pianist, he recognizes that it's his job to accompany the violin, which he does with admirable skill and attentiveness.

The opening number, La Dame Blanche, is a good example of how the two men enrich one another's skills. When the violin comes to the fore, the piano gently recedes into the background and vice versa, each artist giving the other plenty of room to shine. Again, neither man tries to give a bravura performance, just an honest representation of the music. And that honesty works because the resultant performance is delightful.

In Faust, by the time we get to the famous waltz segment, we get the charmer we have come to expect. Reinhold and Zedler don't try to force us to hear it in any other way than how we hope to hear it, lilting and light. There's no puffery about it, no attempt overemphasize it through excessive tempo or dynamic changes; it's just beautiful music, pure and simple.

And so it goes. Each selection is delectable, as we might anticipate from Sarasate and from the two performers. The Gavotte from Mignon has an appropriate cockiness; Don Juan is dramatically musical, even if Sarasate purposely left out some of the opera's more-familiar music; and Zampa is alternately tranquil, passionate, and stirring.

Mr. Reinhold and Mr. Zedler fill out the disc with a generous seventy-seven-plus minutes of material, and the label, MDG, provide the disc with some attractive cover art.

Producers Werner Dabringhaus and Reimund Grimm and recording and mixing engineer Holger Schlegel recorded the music at the Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmunster in February 2015. Yet again they made the album in just about every audio format you can think of on a single disc: CD, SACD, DVD, 2.0, 5.1, and 2+2+2. That last one still puzzles me. It appears that 2+2+2 utilizes all six channels on an SACD layer to present music not just in two channels front and two channels back but two channels up and down as well. So 2+2+2 captures all the reflected sound of a musical event in true three dimension. However, I have my SACD player hooked up only to two channels, so that's the way I listened, in two-channel SACD.

The instruments appear at a modest distance, providing an ultraclean sound, and there is a modicum of room reflection to dampen any hint of hardness or brightness that might otherwise creep into play. There is also a good sense of the two performers being side by side instead of miked too far apart for a greater (but not as realistic) stereo spread. The sound is slightly warm, full, resonant, and, in fact, quite natural.

JJP

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