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Stephen Chin
Stringendo, October 2008

All charm and no harm. Sarasate never wanted to write extended serious works and produced many gems working within the Romantic Spanish idiom. The dances on this disk are perhaps his most loved and feted. Perhaps the extended Balada steps more into the slightly serious realm and this is a welcome work as many other compilations omit it. The real star, however, is Tianwa Yang who plays with an almost superhuman command of every pyrotechnical flourish. There certainly is not the slightest hint of struggle from this violinist who recorded all the Paganini Caprices when just thirteen years of age. Each track simply abounds with taste, flair and a refined humanity that makes this most generous anthology compelling listening.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, April 2007

Itzhak Perlman, Aaron Rosand, Alfredo Campoli (or, simply, Campoli), Charles Castleman, Rachel Barton Pine, and Ruggiero Ricci have all issued collections of the music of Pablo Sarasate. None of them sounds much like Sarasate, who recorded some of his repertoire, including the Habanera (op. 21/2), part of the famous Zigeunerweisen, the Caprice basque, the Capriccio jota, Zapateado, and the Tarantella from the Introduction and Tarantelle, in 1903. These artists to a large extent wrapped Sarasate’s silvery brilliance in a dark cloak of Slavic ardor, or, in Campoli’s case, Italian bel canto.

The young Chinese violinist, Tianwa Yang, born, according to the booklet, in 1987, plays Sarasate in a style more in sympathy with the Master’s lightness but aggressively, too, and smolderingly Iberian. All these characteristics can be heard in the third of the Spanish Dances, the Malagueña: thrusting sharp accents, sudden ritardandos, and flashing, buoyant passagework. It’s a different Sarasate than even Heifetz and Milstein presented, brilliant and showy though their Sarasate might have been. Yang has studied with Lin Yaoji at the Central Conservatory of Music, and her approach to this music sounds fresh and revelatory. Sharp edges notwithstanding, Yang’s playing flashes with insights that should catch the attention even of those who feel that Sarasate either has been played out or never actually deserved much attention. Dynamic contrasts abound, as they should.

The piano sounds bright and a bit raw, but Markus Hadulla shares fully in the sense of excitement that Yang creates. The recorded sound—-a close-up portrait of the artist, the 1749 Michel Angelo Bergonzi on which she played in these performances, and her accompanist—adds sizzle to the readings, already stimulating and riveting. The whole is akin to the effect of scraping layers of grime from a painting or of the period-instrument movement’s recreation of Vivaldi: flashing colors and strongly accented rhythms revivfying a repertoire that had perhaps been allowed to molder.

If her playing of the Romanza andaluza, then, doesn’t burn with Heifetz’s or Milstein’s laser-like intensity, it stands almost equal to their performances in its insightftul individuality. Similarly, her virtuosity in the Jota aragonesa sounds very different from, and more nuanced than, Ricci’s white hot rendering. Yang, in short, creates the same degree of sensation that Sarasate’s recordings themselves do, although she reaches slightly different receptors. It’s like a caffeine-laced drink on a gloomy morning. Having coached my son through a recital of these pieces last year, I’ve had the opportunity to think a great deal about them. But I never thought like this; and I wish I had. The highest recommendation, as a recording of special merit, to anyone even remotely connected with the violin and to everyone who isn’t—yet. It’s like first love.

American Record Guide, December 2006

Eight of the 12 selections were called Spanish Dances by the composer, but really everything he wrote was a Spanish dance. So we have here two habaneras, a playera, a malaguena, a zapateado, etc.

I never expected a Chinese female to be able to play these idiomatically, but I honestly can find nothing wrong with her performances. Each piece is beautifully characterized and played with great polish and confidence.

Sarasate was a virtuoso; he wrote these pieces to exploit his own talent, to put his own fantastic technique on display when he was on tour. Every trick you hear in Paganini turns up here, but in the service of Spanish melodies and atmosphere. And nothing sounds cheap; the Spanish are the most dignified of the Latin peoples. The fire and passion are controlled, but still hard to miss. This violinist understands all that and serves the music perfectly.

We were quite taken with Mark Kaplan's Arabesque recording of these (Nov/Dec 1991). It is still hard to beat for sheer virtuosity, and it still sounds terrific. EMI had a collection of these played by Eduardo Hernandez Asiain and Ruggero Ricci (64559, Jan/Feb 1993). It had more Spanish atmosphere than anything I've heard, and Ricci was a virtuoso to top all virtuosos; but still I enjoy Kaplan and this new recording just as well.

Reviewing brings a lot of surprises. You can't just fall back on big names or favorite recordings. Wonderful new recordings are still made, and this is one of them. (And it is labeled Volume I, so there's more to come.)

Gianluca La Villa, November 2006

Miss Tianwa Yang, born in Peking in 1987, had succeeded in giving us a deep emotion listening to her Sarasate violin pieces, elegantly accompanied by the pianist Markus Hadulla. She has a strong personality; not one of these somehow famous pieces is played the same as others do or have done. Her technique is wonderful,her musical taste is very rare. The Habanera, the Playera, the Malaguena, the Capricho vasco with her wonderful left hand pizzicatos blending with the fine piano accompanyment, are a real joy to listen to.

Miss Yang evidently brings before a new standard for violin playing in the field of the most "western" music, the Spanish folklore, vesting it in her elegant oriental dress, which she takes from the centennial history of her Nation. Japanese prodiges of the last decades,frequently more western than the same European or USA,and Julliard or Curtis breed trained, find now a real example of what an almost perfect blend between Oriental culture and western classical music can bring to our ears and hearts.

James Manheim, November 2006

Taiwan Yang, a Chinese violinist who was a mere 17 years old when this disc was recorded, shows prodigal talent in a recital of music by Pablo de Sarasate, one of the Victorian era's great violinists. (Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson take the afternoon off to go and hear him in The Red-Headed League.)

Lacking recordings, we know the violinists of the nineteenth century partly by the music they wrote for themselves. In the music explored here, Sarasate stressed his Spanish heritage, evoking the flamenco and rural dance forms of Spain with considerable subtlety.

He did not turn to sheer fireworks as often as Paganini did, but there are still plenty of them in evidence on this program, and Yang turns them into fire and smoke. Sample track 3, the "Malagueña, Op. 21/1," for an example of a difficult left-hand pizzicato passage executed with the kind of explosive snap that makes the audience sit up and quit rifling through the program notes.

In matters of rhythm and articulation Yang is equally effective; each phrase is shaped distinctively, and she pushes forward against the beat without letting tempo rubato degenerate into mannerism.

If there is one flaw at this point, it lies in the area of beauty of tone, but the over-bright sound of her violin may be partly a result of inadequate compensation for the effects of an empty and very live auditorium. Yang bears watching, that's for certain, and as for recordings of Sarasate, she's already very near the top of the heap.

Anthony Clarke
Limelight, November 2006

I've lived with this recording for about a fortnight now. It will stay often-played. It is, in the best sense, salon music - light, diverting and constantly entertaining, with no apologies for being so. Pablo Sarasate was one of the great virtuoso violinists of the mid to late 19th century. And he composed to suit his high-edged fast fiddling - he was a latterday minor Paganini. Probably the best known today of his compositions is his Carmen suite, where he turns Bizet's opera into an exhilarating non-stop duel between violin and orchestra. The 1960s recording by Itzhak Perlman on EMI should be in every collection. And so too, should this. The young Chinese violinist (still not quite 20) Tianwa Yang plays all of Sarasate's virtuosic runs as if it's as simple as breathing, and her quicksilver playing is well matched by pianist Markus Hadulla. He's there though as accompanist - this is her show, just as once it was Sarasate's. The very bright Naxos recording suits the repertoire - it's as brilliant as a multi-faceted diamond. Almost all of these derive strongly from Spanish folk melodies - the exception, his Salada Op. 31, brings in some Spanish elements, but has a broader thematic canvas. These are sprightly pieces, too light-footed to be elegant; so beguiling in their sunny charm that they defy analysis. Sarasate would have performed them to delight, amaze and simply to please; his magic is still here in abundance., September 2006

Pablo Sarasate’s works demand virtuosity of a very different sort. His pieces for violin and piano stretch every violinist’s technique (except, perhaps, Sarasate’s own), standing nearly at the same difficulty level as Paganini’s music. Sarasate wrote primarily for himself, so his works provide considerable insight into his own style, which clearly included some very unusual handling of pizzicati: they sound, at various times, like everything from guitar plucking to harpsichord notes. The first volume in Naxos’ new Sarasate series was recorded by Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang when she was 17, in 2004 – the same year she received the Best Young Violinist in China prize from Seiji Ozawa. Yang is all dash and fire here, and that fits the music exceptionally well. These are works of great rhythmic vitality and considerable surface-level beauty, with no depths to plumb – ideal for a super-talented young violinist. The main pieces on this CD are the eight Danzas Españolas, which for some unexplained reason are arranged very oddly: Nos. 2, 5, 1; then Capricho Vasco; Nos. 3 and 4; then Serenata Andaluza, Jota Aragonesa and Balada; then Nos. 6, 7 and 8. This is a strange sequence that adds nothing to the CD’s effectiveness. Effective it certainly is, though, especially in such fireworks-filled works as the two Habaneras (dances Nos. 2 and 8) and the Serenata Andaluza. Yang’s youthfulness shows through in the quieter, more pensive works, such as Balada and Vito (dance No. 7): these tend to drag as one waits for speed and intensity that the works do not contain. The pieces are also frustrating ones for the pianist: Markus Hadulla plays very well indeed, but what he is given to play has only minimal interest. That, of course, is Sarasate’s fault and was surely his intention: there is nothing here to distract from the violin. If there is also nothing profound offered, it scarcely matters: light-fingered skill is the name of the game here, and Yang has plenty of that.

David Vernier, September 2006

If you want to hear some very well-played Sarasate violin music, performed on a disc devoted solely to that composer's Spanish Dances, then this new release from Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang and Naxos will do the job splendidly. Yang was in her 17th year in 2004 when she recorded these stylish, dazzling showpieces--chamber works that also contain an inherent sensual, sultry physicality that requires a soloist with a keen sense of the rhythms and a true feeling for the passion--sometimes playful, sometimes athletic, sometimes erotic--embodied in these dances. Virtuoso they certainly are--and Yang delivers in this aspect of her performances; that is, her technique, which helped her win the prize of "Best Young Violinist in China" in 2004, is sharply developed, confident, and articulate.

Highlights include the energetic, triple-time Jota Aragonesa Op. 27, with its insistent down-beat, varied melodic twists and turns (including a section in harmonics), and sudden fiery outburst at the end. "Zapateado" (Spanish Dance Op. 23 No. 2) also is very exciting in terms of Yang's command of various bowing and fingering techniques--but this also is one place where she shows her occasional tendency to play under pitch, especially (and most unfortunately) on many of the harmonics (here and elsewhere). Because the pitch of unstopped harmonics (which many of these are) is determined by the tuning of the open string and cannot be altered simply by a fine finger adjustment, it suggests that Yang's violin was not always precisely in tune with the piano. At other times (in several places in the Op. 23 No. 1 ("Playera") an occasional note lies a bit flat at the end of a phrase, seemingly due to momentary inattentiveness, not to any fundamental failure of technique.

Aside from these spotty lapses, when you compare Yang's interpretations, which are basically solid and technically very impressive, with other versions, you realize the limitations of her emotional, experiential input to the pieces' expressive aspects. There's plenty of fire but not much heat; and there's undeniable vitality but the seductive, romantic spirit is missing.

For the most accomplished modern performances of many of the works on Yang's program, turn to James Ehnes' CBC recording, released the same year Yang's was made, which also includes works by Wieniawski. Ehnes seems to have thought more carefully about (or at least sensed) proper tempos relative to the particular nature of a given dance--his slower Playera, for instance, and considerably faster Jota Navarra and Zapateado, in each case ideally capturing the innate spirit of the dance in question. Ehnes also supplies the romantic depth and understanding these pieces need--a knowing turn of phrase, a clever shift of dynamics, a particular rhythmic emphasis here, a pulling away there. It's great stuff, and the Wieniawski selections are just as good.

The sound on the two discs also offers different choices--more edgy and gritty for Yang, making no compromise in presenting the instrument's natural character, and warmer, brighter, a bit more distant for Ehnes, yet no less realistic. Another consideration: Yang's program offers several works difficult or impossible to find elsewhere on disc.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, August 2006

ALL HAIL: A WUNDERKIND! Tianwa Yang was all of seventeen (according to the notes) when she made this recording. Everyone loves a child prodigy, and from the opening phrase on this CD, it was obvious that we are here in the presence of a major, major talent, having already recorded - at age thirteen! - that Mount Everest of the virtusoso violinist's repertoire: the 24 Caprices by Paganini. So hats off again to the young lady, and to her excellent accompanist Markus Hadulla, for his wonderful support. The audio quality is up to Naxos' excellent standard.

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