About this Recording
8.572191 - SARASATE, P. de: Violin and Orchestra Music, Vol. 1 (Tianwa Yang, Navarre Symphony, Martinez-Izquierdo)

Pablo Sarasate (1844–1908)
Music for Violin and Orchestra • 1


Sarasate’s folk-music is like “a fresh rosy-cheeked country girl”, so declared the famous violin teacher and prolific writer Carl Flesch. His enthusiasm was unbounded in regard to the Spanish flavoured works; less so to the original compositions. With the release of Sarasate’s complete works, we have the unique opportunity to evaluate the universality of these pieces for ourselves. Certainly Flesch was correct about the works of Spanish inspiration. I am convinced that he was incorrect about the other works.

Sarasate was born in the Spanish city of Pamplona in 1844. His father, a regimental band-master, moved the young family to the distant city of La Coruña. There he gave the young Pablo his first violin lessons. The son soon eclipsed the father, and thus ensued a lifelong friction. Pablo was sent to Madrid, where the precocious genius earned the sponsorship of Queen Isabella II. Under the royal patronage, he was sent to study with the famous violin professor, Delphin Alard, at the Paris Conservatoire. By 1857 and 1858 Sarasate had won virtually all the first prizes. He then embarked on his artistic career. Being so young and callow, he actually vegetated for a number of years. His role was as an “assisting artist” to famous singers, and as a salon violinist. Later a complete transformation of his musical being resulted in world-wide success. So complete was this transformation that Sarasate became the highest paid violinist of all time, and the recipient of countless musical dedications.

Sarasate was one of only a handful of violinists who actually changed the course of violin-playing. What features of his performance made him so memorable? Among them were a bewitching and glowing tone; novel use of a wider and constant vibrato; the absolute perfection of left and right hand technique; an all-encompassing and ever-extending repertoire; and that he inspired so many composers to write pieces for him, benefitting posterity. The greater part of his artistic life was a continuous series of profitable artistic and financial successes. Public and critical acclaim shone upon him. He knew only success.

The present recording gives ample opportunity to examine and enjoy Sarasate’s abilities as a composer. Beginning with Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20, we can declare Sarasate a master of his art. This piece is, quite unashamedly, the greatest gypsy piece ever written. The rapturous first section is without compare in its expressivity. The second section is from Elemér Szentirmay’s opera Der Dorflump. The finale uses the same friska as did Liszt in his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13.

Airs espagnols, Op. 18, is nearly as good a work as Zigeunerweisen, and is its Spanish counterpart. Sadly it never achieved the same popularity. The Spanish themes flow, one after the other, with consummate ease. I must note here that Sarasate was a master at blending genuine Spanish folk-tunes with his own Spanish-flavoured melodies. It is sometimes difficult to discern one from the other.

Miramar—Zortzico, Op. 42, is one of Sarasate’s most bewitching creations. It is one of the pieces he himself recorded in 1904. The melodies are completely original, but completely under the influence of Spanish traditional music. A zortzico is a traditional Basque dance in 5/8 metre. The agogic accent falls, like the sarabande, on the second beat. Sarasate’s favorite beverage was beer, and this is how he taught the zortzico rhythm: “Ein glas bier fur mich!” Yes, he spoke German.

Peteneras, Op. 35, is one of the most attractive Spanish concoctions. Parenthetically, the cover of the first edition is equally attractive. The listener is immediately impressed by the spicy orchestration, haunting Andalusian melodies and all of Sarasate’s patented violinistic derring-do of pizzicato, harmonics and lightning fast acrobatics. In an instant you are in a gypsy cave listening to a husky-voiced Flamenco singer and a virtuoso guitarist. Sarasate’s music can do just that, and more.

Nocturne-sérénade, Op. 45, answers the debate over Sarasate’s ability really to compose original music. This piece is Chopinesque in its charm, subtle harmonies and melodic grace. It is certainly superior in its sublime orchestration. Listen in awe, as the flute sets the mood in the two measure introduction. Incidentally, these notes do not appear in the piano version.

Viva Sevilla!, Op. 38, epitomizes all that makes Sarasate one of the immortals. Languorous evocative melodies are juxtaposed with the most elegant virtuosity imaginable. Sarasate pulls out all the stops here—electrifying leaps, stunning guitar-like pizzicato effects, flageolet-style harmonics and rapid passage-work are tossed off like child’s play. It is never ostentatious. This is the very essence of artistic virtuosity.

Fantasie sur La Dame Blanche is Sarasate’s grandest endeavour. It is based on Boieldieu’s once immensely popular opera of 1825. The fantasy dates from 1866 and is dedicated to Pablo Sarasate’s classmate, musical collaborator friend Louis Diémer. The original opera was the inspiration to many subsequent opera composers, and Sarasate’s fantasy is an inspiration to any music-lover. It is truly bel canto violin.

The great American violinist, Albert Spalding, left us a brilliant word-picture of Sarasate the violinist: “His violin sang like a thrush, and his incomparable ease tossed aside difficulties with a grace and insouciance that affected even his gestures”. And so it is with all his music.

Joseph Gold

Close the window