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A ‘Spanish’ violin concertoIt has been said of the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns that one could discuss French music for hours without even mentioning his name. Though a famous composer, his music was not considered typically French in the same way as that of Fauré, Franck or Debussy. And the same could be said of Édouard Lalo, who owes his fame mainly to the violin concertos still performed to this day, including the Symphonie espagnole, a symphony which is really a concerto. The work’s many Spanish traits can perhaps be explained by the Spanish roots of the ancestors of this French composer, who was born in the Belgian Rijssel. But Lalo also composed operas (of which Le Roi d’Ys enjoyed particular popularity) and, like Saint-Saëns, a considerable amount of chamber music. But the Symphonie espagnole opus 21 remains his best-known work, as it was in his own day. And it was this piece that inspired Tchaikovsky several years later to write his only violin concerto.
|Recording type bit rate||
Auditorio Palacio de Congresos Principe Felipe, Oviedo, Spain
Jared Sacks, Ernst Coutinho
Rens Heijnis custom made
Bruel & Kyaer, Schoeps
Grimm DSD A/D
van den Hul
Feng’s tone is small, but centred and well-projected (…) the bow-work is excellent (…) an interesting album showcasing an artist whose style makes him well-worth listening to amongst the bland, faceless emissions that so often pass for violin playing today. (…) excellent depth, the use of native playback brings an analogue-like sense of space and acoustic and there is no excessive reverberation. (…) amongst digital versions of these works this is by some distance the finest sound available.
“So far in his recording career, Chinese violinist Ning Feng has tackled only a couple of the warhorses of the violin repertoire, namely the Bruch and Tchaikovsky concertos. With the current recording, he adds a once-popular concerto to his catalog. As the name of Édouard Lalo’s work implies, it combines elements of concerto, symphony, and symphonic suite in a unique manner. With its Spanish flavor, colorful orchestration, and varied emotional palette, it should still be a crowd pleaser but is heard rarely in the concert hall these days and rarely recorded.
It’s a very recommendable version, too, one that captures the wide-ranging landscape of the piece, from the fiery opening through the operatic drama of the Andante to the ebullience of the Scherzando second movement and finale. Feng’s performance is fully engaged, while the Spanish orchestra seems to relish Lalo’s masterly imitation of Iberian musical gestures. (Then again, the Spanish musical idiom was a natural for Lalo, who, though born in northernmost France, came from a family of Spanish military men.)
The other works are the kind of short virtuoso vehicles with which violin soloists filled out their programs in earlier times. Rarely programmed nowadays, they still retain their popularity with armchair audiences. Pablo de Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (“Gypsy Airs”) uses genuine gypsy melodies, beginning with a long-breathed, melancholy tune that the solo violin embellishes, swooping from the lowest to the highest register, and ending with a fiery czárdás—a melody Liszt had earlier cribbed for one of his Hungarian Rhapsodies (No. 13).
It’s appropriate that the album include a take on gypsy music from a Frenchman, one with roots in the Basque region near the Spanish border. Ravel’s Tzigane is broadly imitates the style of gypsy music, though unlike Sarasate’s work it contains no authentic gypsy melodies. However, like Sarasate’s work, it is an endurance test for the violinist even more so, as the solo violin must navigate mine fields of quick pizzicato passages, as well as sing sweetly through long stretches of harmonics.
With Romanza Andaluza, Sarasate returns to home turf. It’s a piece with a sleepy, lilting rhythm. Fireworks aren’t called for here. Instead, the violin comments on the tune, maintaining a songful demeanor, though of course the soloist gets to show off his or her command of a variety of techniques from challenging double stops to high harmonics.
One review I read of this recording groused that Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasy is dull and foursquare compared to Sarasate’s better-known fantasy, which should have been included on the program instead. However, if you’re like me, you’ll be happy to hear something other than the same old same old. As it turns out, Waxman’s piece is anything but dull and manages to erect new hurdles in the soloist’s path. The Fantasy is an expansion of a piece included in the 1946 film Humoresque, starring John Garfield as a concert violinist. Jascha Heifetz requested the expanded version and thus gave violinists a well-constructed virtuoso vehicle that starts, as it must, with the pomp of the March of the Toreadors, segues to Carmen’s Habanera, L’amour est une oiseau rebelle, and ends with the Gypsy Song from Act 2. Waxman manages to work some interesting counterpoint into the finale, along with the usual virtuoso gambit for the soloist.
Ning Feng delivers all these demanding works with the fire, ice, and sugar, in different measures, that they require. His technique is beyond cavil, of course, but he also plays with a purity and sweetness of tone rare among the current crop of virtuosi, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s good to hear from Rossen Milanov again, one-time assistant conductor of my hometown band, the Philadelphia Orchestra. The convergence of Eastern European conductor and Spanish orchestra certainly nails down both musical strains in this program, providing properly atmospheric support to Feng’s virtuoso fiddling. Bright, open DSD sound — with ample bass and very present percussion — helps to seal the deal on this entertaining survey of violin showpieces. Apasionado or purely virtuoso, these works deliver violinistic fireworks by the carload.”
Hoe speelt Feng? Als een god in Frankrijk, speels, zwierig, charmant, poëtisch, maar ook op het scherpst van de snede, met groot virtuoos vertoon, in grootse stijl. (…) dit is violistiek van wereldklasse (…) prachtige, volmaakt uitgebalanceerde opname (…)
(…) a striking musical conversation with the orchestra (…) Ning Feng shows a musical cohesion. A way of playing that makes ‘Apasionado’ is really a great passionate album!
De stukken op deze cd zijn sfeervol, romantisch en vol temperament. Een absolute top productie.
Acrobatiek op een Stradivarius uit 1721 (…) halsbrekende vioolkunsten (…) gloedvol vioolspel (…)
Ning Feng geigt mit Stil, Brillanz und Elan. (…) Sein Virtuosität dringt niemals in den Vorgrund, sondern ist Mittel zum Zweck. (…)
der neue merker
(…) Grandezza and Temperament auf höchste Niveau.
(…) a dazzling left hand and a firm, rich tone which one cannot help but admire (…)
Apasionado or purely virtuoso, these works deliver violinistic fireworks by the carload. (…) Ning Feng delivers all these demanding works with the fire, ice, and sugar, in different measures, that they require. His technique is beyond cavil, of course, but he also plays with a purity and sweetness of tone rare among the current crop of virtuosi. (…)
ClassicFM Drive – CD of the Week
A fantastic new release (…) Daring virtuosity and perfectly pitched sweetness throughout.
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