Ever since I first heard violinist Anne Akiko Meyers some twenty years ago (as she was a child prodigy, she was already an established musician by that time), I sensed something special. Her playing radiated a sweet, gentle quality that was extremely calming and reassuring. With this album, Fantasia, she performs music that seems tailor-made for her, in the case of Rautavaara work, literally. And Maestro Kristjan Jarvi and London's Philharmonia Orchestra accompany her with the utmost in ravishing, sympathetic support. The album makes a winning combination.
The first selection on the program is called Fantasia, written on a commission from Ms. Meyers by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016). It was Rautavaara's last completed score, done the year before his death. As this was the music's first recording and he wrote it for Ms. Meyers, we will have to accept it as authoritative; not that I think anyone could do any better with it. It's a sweet, tuneful, Romantically inflected work, reminiscent to me of Ralph Vaughan Williams's "The Lark Ascending." As usual, Ms. Meyers plays with exactly the right touch and nuance to do justice to the score's enchanting beauty.
The second selection is the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 by Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). He wrote it in 1916, right at the start of the modern era of classical music, and it shows, eschewing some but not all of the Romantic overtones of the concertos coming before it and displaying a good deal of French impressionism as well. What's more, and despite its sometimes going against the grain of the age, it remains one of Szymanowski's most-popular pieces.
|Anne Akiko Meyers|
The final piece on the program is probably the most well known: "Tzigane" by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), a work Ravel premiered in 1924. Like Rautavaara's Fantasia, "Tzigane" is a brief, rhapsodic piece, although, as "Tzigane" means "gypsy," the latter has a more gypsy-like character to it. Ms. Meyers captures the mood of the piece, although she doesn't impress with it quite as much as she does in the preceding works, perhaps because the Ravel music is more commonly recorded. Repetition kind of dulls one's appreciation for a new rendering; however, rest assured that Ms. Meyers does it as well as anyone. Ravel, after all, meant the score as a virtuosic showpiece, and Ms. Meyers plays it in her own sensitively virtuosic style.
Producer Anne Akiko Meyers and engineer Silas Brown recorded the music at London Air Studios in May 2016. The sound is most realistic, especially in the placement of the violin just slightly in front of the orchestra but not in our face. This soloist-orchestral integration is further enhanced by the mildly pleasant ambience of the studio setting, which just slightly reflects some reverberant bloom. The frequency response is neutral, the dynamics more than adequate for the occasion, and the instrumental detailing about what one would expect to hear from a tenth-row center seat in a real concert hall. It's all quite pleasant.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: