The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music defines a musical fantasia (or fantasy or phantasy) in several ways, the definition best applying here being "Free and somewhat improvisatory treatments of existing themes, often from operas." OK, to an uninitiated novice like me in the classical realm, that sounds an awful lot like a medley of greatest hits. But what do I know. "Fantasy" (or especially "phantasy") sounds a lot better than "medley." Whatever the case, the music here is remarkably vibrant, pleasant, and soothing as performed by two experts in the field.
On the present disc, German violinist Volker Reinhold and German pianist Ralph Zedler offer five examples of such fantasias (or, again, fantasies, fantaisies, or phantasies, depending on the language) spanning some 150 years of classical music history. What's more, three of them are world-première recordings.
You may remember Reinhold and Zedler from their earlier albums or from my own review of their Sarasate recording. Violinist Reinhold became the concertmaster of the Mecklenburg State Orchestra in 1989. According to the accompanying booklet, 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 19th century."
As for pianist Zedler, I quoted last time from his Web site: "...he graduated from Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. He worked regularly in the singing classes of Liselotte Hammes, Klesie Kelly, Kurt Moll, and 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." And since the summer of 2016, again according to the accompanying booklet, "...he has been a solo repetiteur at the Volkstheater Rostock."
After that is the Fantaisie sur Faust (1869) by Belgium violinist and composer Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881). Here, the fantasy on the music of Gounod is even more virtuosic, more dramatic than that of Verdi. It's also a bit more melodramatic and bombastic, so be aware. Vieuxtemps wrote his own introductions and interludes for the Gounod excerpts, so most of it hangs together, but until the famous music of the final third, little of it exhibits the lyricism of Verdi, despite Reinhold's superb technique and execution.
Next is the Fantaisie sur des motifs de l'opera 'La vie pour le Czar Ivan Susanin' de Glinka (1900) by Czech violinist and composer Frantisek Ondricek (1857-1922). With this fantasy, Ondricek covers more ground than the previous two composers in their fantasies, which may or may not be a good thing. Whatever, Reinhold and Zedler produce a big, robust piece of high intent and vivid contrasts.
Following that is Norma de Bellini, Fantaisie sur la quatrieme corde (1844), again by Henri Vieuxtemps but an earlier composition of his. The gimmick here is that Vieuxtemps instructs that the entire fantasy be played on a single string. Remarkable. And remarkable, too, is Reinhold's playing, which carries out Vieuxtemps's instructions flawlessly.
The final item is the Concert Fantasy on Themes from Gershwin's Opera Porgy and Bess (1991) by Russian violinist and composer Igor Frolov (1937-2013). This is the one fantasy on the program that seems to include every familiar tune from the opera from which it derives. If you like Gershwin, you'll like Frolov's treatment of the themes, and you'll love Reinhold and Zedler's evocatively dreamy, jazzy realizations of the score.
Producers Werner Dabringhaus and Reimund Grimm and engineer Holger Schlegel recorded the music at the Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmunster, Germany in April 2019. They made the disc in hybrid SACD, which contains a regular two-channel stereo layer for playback on a regular CD player and an SACD layer, which contains a two-channel stereo format, a multichannel format, and a 2+2+2 format for playback on an SACD player. Apparently, the 2+2+2 format utilizes the middle and bass channels to provide a left and right height dimension to the sound, perhaps somewhat similar to what Dolby ATMOS also does. I say "perhaps" because my system is two-channel stereo only, so I listened
in SACD two-channel. Presumably, the 2+2+2 format requires that listeners reconfigure their speakers, something I doubt a lot of people are willing to do, given the scarcity of SACD recordings in general and 2+2+2 recordings in particular. I guess the folks at MDG (Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm) know what they're doing, and I applaud them for it, but I'd be surprised if more than a half dozen people worldwide have set up their sound systems specifically for 2+2+2 playback.
Still, that's neither here nor there. In the SACD two-channel stereo format to which I listened, the sound was quite natural, with good positioning of the two performers relative to one another, if miked slightly more to the left of center than I might have liked. The hall provides a pleasant bloom, enhancing the realism of the recording. The violin appears resplendent and the piano dynamic, both instruments rendered as lifelike as one could imagine.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: