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David Hurwitz, December 2010

Such mellifluous and delightful music deserves the widest possible exposure. There was a time when the typical violin recital (with piano) consisted primarily of this kind of music, roundly sneered at by snooty “artistes” who replaced it with penitential programs consisting of all the Bach Sonatas and Partitas at a sitting, or all the Brahms sonatas, or other forms of aural flagellation. Somewhere between seriousness unto death and cloying fluff there has to be a happy medium. The fact is that Pablo Sarasate was a very good composer of the virtuoso school, and these performances—always stylish and tasteful but technically brilliant—do him full justice.

The most popular item here will be Zigeunerweisen, but Airs espagnols and the Fantasie are more substantial still. La Dame Blanche is in fact a very beautiful opera, and Sarasate’s arrangement couldn’t be lovelier, or more affectingly played. Most of the other works have a Spanish flavor and reveal Sarasate in his element. Alternately vivacious and soulful, they are wonderful pieces and they hold no obvious terrors for Tianwa Yang. Whether she’s slipping a few harmonics into insanely fast passage-work, or firing off a volley of left-hand pizzicatos, she has all of this music under firm control. Ernest Martínez Izquierdo and the Navarra orchestra accompany with equal verve, and the sonics are excellent in all respects.

Christopher Fifield
MusicWeb International, December 2010

The Spaniard violinist Sarasate studied at the Paris Conservatoire in the late 1850s and walked off with all the prizes. His career got off to a rather insignificant start, as a warm-up act to flamboyant singers in recital, but he used this experience to good effect and to his own advantage, so much so that during the course of his own career he became one of the highest paid virtuosi of all time. He wrote and played many fantasies on popular tunes, familiar operas and his own original melodies; he was a phenomenal technician and a brilliant showman. This disc begins with his greatest and most popular work, Zigeunerweisen, and from it—as well as the surviving recordings he made at the end of his life—we can deduce that he played with a warmth of tone (considerable vibrato), subtle delicacy and above all with an outrageously technical skill. At times one is sure there are two players at work. Albert Spalding commented that Sarasate’s violin ‘sang like a thrush, and his incomparable ease tossed aside difficulties with a grace and insouciance that affected even his gestures’. Speaking of his gestures, he was a notorious attention-seeker on the concert platform. When awaiting his next entry while the orchestra played alone, he would ensure that the audience continued to look at him, not the conductor and his players, by holding his instrument aloft in his left hand halfway along its neck, then let it drop until the pegs encountered his hand, producing an involuntary gasp from the public who were convinced it was on a descending journey of destruction.

Like his even more famous forebear Paganini, it’s easy to dismiss Sarasate’s music as shallow, and discs like this can be tedious because the music has a formulaic structure, which worked well in its day, but even then a procession of seven works would not have been played in a concert. Today one of them might serve as a substantial encore. The other truism is that no player attempts such music unless they are blessed with a phenomenal technique. There are no half measures when it comes to this music—either you can play it or you can’t. The Chinese Tianwa Yang—who has also recorded some of Sarasate’s music for violin and piano—certainly can, and makes it all sound both easy and natural. She has bold tone, a bright sound and immaculate clarity in her left hand pizzicato; her conductor and orchestral accompanists accurately follow her weaving rubato. The delicate understatement of Viva Sevilla (track 7) is a highlight. It may all be a surfeit of paella maybe, but it makes a tasty dish all the same, and there’s also a second volume now (8.572216—see review) which starts with the famous Carmen Fantasy. Tianwa Yang is a name to look out for.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, January 2010

Tianwa Yang’s third CD in a projected seven-volume set of the complete works of Sarasate is the first volume of his Music for Violin and Orchestra. A wonderful Zigeunerweisen starts things off, and the standard never flags. Certainly it would be difficult to imagine more suitable support: Ernest Martinez Izquierdo draws passionate and nuanced playing from the Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra, the orchestra founded by Sarasate in 1879, and the recording venue was their concert hall in Pamplona, the composer’s birthplace. Tianwa Yang toured China with this same orchestra in a series of Sarasate concerts, and clearly understands the music, going beyond a dazzling technique to get at the Spanish soul within., November 2009

22-year-old virtuoso, Tianwa Yang, brings plenty of fire and spirit to the compositions of another great 19th-century violinist, Pablo de Sarasate (1844–1908). Sarasate was more in the tradition of Paganini—a superb player whose technique was highly influential—than in that of Joachim, whose tremendous abilities were placed at the service of some of the great composers of his and earlier times. Sarasate’s use of vibrato and emphasis on his instrument’s tone are just two of his areas of influence on other violinists. His music, written in various folklike styles, has a fairly narrow emotional range (languorous to flighty) and tends to sounds a bit repetitious when heard in large quantities. But many of his works, when listened to individually, are gems—notably including Zigeunerweisen, perhaps his best-known display piece. The distinct Hungarianisms of this work (which uses the same concluding melody that Liszt chose for one of his Hungarian Rhapsodies) make an interesting contrast to the more typical Spanish and Basque music heard in most of the other works on this CD. Among the disc’s highlights are the lovely Nocturne-sérénade, which is graceful and more subtle than most of Sarasate’s music; and Fantasie sur “La Dame Blanche”, based on François-Adrien Boieldieu’s 1825 opera, which combines considerable lyricism with plenty of fireworks. Ernest Martínez Izquierdo and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra (which was founded by Sarasate in 1879) give Yang excellent accompaniment throughout these works—and since Naxos has designated this CD as Volume 1 of a series, there should be considerably more of Sarasate’s music, and his approach to the violin, still to come.

James Manheim, November 2009

The young Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang, born in Beijing in 1987, recorded Paganini at age 13 and has been termed a prodigy. By the time she recorded this disc of Sarasate violin-and-orchestra favorites in 2008 she was less a prodigy than a veteran, with several Sarasate discs already to her credit. She seems to be getting better and better, and to be emerging as a major star. She’s had the technical chops since her early teens, and, unlike with some Eastern technicians, there’s no shortage of passion in her playing. What she adds this time around is control over a performance, and one involving a group of real Sarasate veterans at that—the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra was founded by Sarasate himself. Yang sets herself up as the star in the best sense. For example, in Sarasate’s best-known orchestral showpiece Zigeunerweisen, Op. 20 (Gypsy Style), and in Mirarmar—Zortzico, Op. 42, she pushes the orchestra forward as the high point of the music approaches. Her tone in the Nocturne-sérénade, Op. 45, is exquisite. If one had to complain of something, it would be the lower register in the more purely Spanish pieces like Viva Sevilla!, Op. 38, where there isn’t quite the mood of profound quiet that violinists of longer experience have brought to the music. But anyone who attended this program in concert would not only feel that it was worth the money but also likely bring a friend along the next time. Sound, recorded in the orchestra’s home hall in Pamplona, is above average, and at Naxos’ discount price this album is nothing short of a raging bargain.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, October 2009

The album begins with Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), one of the most famous pieces of “gypsy” music in existence, coming to life and showing its stuff in the second half after a lengthy introduction.  It’s the kind of work that puts a violinist’s full range of abilities on display, and Ms Yang comes though unscathed.  Both she and the Orquesta Sinfonia de Navarra shine, lighting up the room with their electricity.  One hardly notices the orchestra, though, what with Ms Yang putting on such an exhibition of technical prowess.

The Airs espagnols that follows is, for me, an even better piece of music than Zigeunerweisen, although it never attained the popularity.  The Airs espagnols perfectly captures the spirit of the Spanish countryside in a series of delightful folk tunes and original melodies.  For this brief, ten-minute, work alone the disc is worth its budget price.

The other music falls in line, with the Peteneras: Capriccio espagnol among the most multifaceted and lively, and the Nocturnes—serenade acting as a sort of calming rest stop in the procession of pyrotechnics on display in the rest of the music.

The sound that Naxos engineers capture is close and highly impressive, suiting the sweep of the music-making.  Although it does not exhibit a lot of orchestral depth, it does produce a clear, sharply defined presence, with excellent dynamics.  Fortunately, there are no traces of edginess, brightness, or glassiness to the sonics, so despite the closeness of the recording, things remain fairly smooth and warm throughout.

Trivia note:  Sarasate himself founded the Navarra Symphony Orchestra in 1879, making it the oldest active ensemble in Spain and, therefore, wholly appropriate to playing the man’s music.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2009

Even in a world that is presently inundated with technically superb musical virtuosos, the twenty-two year old Chinese violinist, Tianwa Yang, is quite remarkable. Intonation is in the centre of every note and her immaculate bowing arm creates the most beautifully smooth and elegant cantabile or the tangy spiky spiccato as the music demands. Listen to those left-hand pizzicatos in Zigeunerweisen for a precision product that would make other virtuosos green with envy. In fact she almost brushes aside the difficulties that the great 19th century Spanish violinist, Pablo Sarasate, built into his showpieces. Turn to the beauty of the Nocturne-serenade with her use of a wide and warming vibrato produces exquisite beauty and gossamer lightness in those waterfall descending passages. Then, after a slow introduction, she dives head first into the exuberances of Viva Sevilla!. The disc ends with the Fantasie sur La Dame Blanche, considered the composer’s masterpiece in the genre. Using themes from Boieldieu’s once famous opera, it moves between bel canto and those high passages on the violin that rival the song of birds. Above all, it is Yang’s ability to play the quiet moments in these virtuoso works with such utter delicacy that sets her aside from others. The perfectly coloured accompaniment comes from the Orquesta Sinfonica da Navarra. It was founded by Sarasate in 1879, and has, in recent times, toured China with Yang playing the composers music. Very good sound quality and by a large margin the best Sarasate disc I have heard.

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