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Robert Maxham
Fanfare, March 2011

The second volume of Naxos’s series of CDs devoted to Pablo Sarasate’s music for violin and orchestra includes two operatic fantasies (Carmen and Romeo and Juliet) as well as four shorter works. Tianwa Yang has already recorded three CDs in the series (the first volume, accompanied by orchestra, Naxos 8.572191, Fanfare, 33:5, included the evergreen Zigeunerweisen, while Naxos 8.557767, Fanfare 30:4, and Naxos 8.570192, Fanfare 31:5, offered a series of shorter works with pianist Markus Hadulla). In this one she plays with the same razor-sharp technique and tonal elegance that characterized the others. In fact, she demonstrates that the Carmen Fantasy isn’t so familiar that it can’t still pump adrenaline. Her stupendous technical facility makes the closing pages into a tour de force that challenges even Heifetz’s hegemony, which he established at the outset of his career in his recording from 1924. But throughout, she’s an ostensive definition of an oxymoron, seductively chaste. The Fantasy on Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, provides opportunities for tonal splendor on the G string, and while she’s alluring, many may feel that the tone she produces lacks flexibility in lyrical passages’ lower registers. In 30:4, I described the effect of her playing as being “like first love” and I recommended that recording and the second, 8.570192, with some urgency, “to anyone who can recognize the sound of a violin.” I wouldn’t retract any of that seeming hyperbole—the purity of her intonation (as at the end of the Fantasy on Gounod), the almost amazing cleanliness of her technique, and the laser-like focus of her tone would forbid it. Of course, she doesn’t sound like Sarasate any more than his Russian-trained later interpreters do. Although he didn’t record his Canciones rusas, for example, it’s doubtful whether he would—or perhaps could—have played its somber opening with such pulsating melancholy. Ricci doesn’t in his collection of Sarasate’s music on Dynamic CDS 94 (although with piano). Yang’s playing of the concluding page, mixing sparkle and drive, sounds less brittle than Ricci’s.

Gil Shaham included the Song of the Nightingale in his collection of Sarasate’s music (Canary 07); so did Ricci, with piano, in his. Some of Yang’s arpeggios remind me of the sound of Sarasate playing similar passages in his own Habanera. La Chasse resurrects an old genre, many examples of which can be found in Jean-Baptiste Cartier’s L’Art du violon from 1798, pieces that Kreisler mimicked in his own composition by that name. But Sarasate’s, at 8:50, begins more expansively, with a darker introduction, before plunging into a hunting motive that Joseph Gold’s notes compare to the theme of the finale of Glazunov’s concerto—although that resemblance seems to be fleeting. Yang switches adroitly between the quasi-martial sections and the softer, more lyrical one with which they alternate. Jota de Pablo also appears in Ricci’s collection; he plays the fastest passages with a headlong energy that tends to compress rapid notes into a jumble, and gets through the piece almost a minute and a half (or about 25 percent) faster than Yang does; on the other hand, he’s more vibrant, though not so wheedling or cajoling, in the slower sections. Overall, Ricci raises goosebumps, as he often does in Sarasate’s music, and Yang, for all her brilliance, just doesn’t achieve that kind of visceral effect.

I reviewed a complete collection of Sarasate’s works (by violinists Gabriel Croitoru and Manuel Guillén Navarro, with Jacques Bodmer conducting the Málaga Orchestra, Regis 010/1/2/3, in Fanfare 19:6), and another has appeared with violinist Angel Jesús Garcia and Miquel Ortega, conducting the Pablo Sarasate Orchestra, Volumes 1 and 2 on RTVE 65042 and 65063. But Yang rises above her competition in the unfamiliar short pieces and challenges the finest violinists who have attempted, say, the popular Carmen Fantasy. Naxos’s recorded sound places her in front of the orchestra, but who’s complaining? Urgently recommended.

Steven J Haller
American Record Guide, March 2011

Our Editor sent me Volume 2 of Tianwa Yang’s Sarasate survey for review, but I do not own Volume 1. Fortunately through my subscription to, I was able to download it online and hear for myself why three different reviewers including Mr Vroon have already heaped such immense accolades on Ms Yang’s phenomenal artistry, including two earlier volumes of Sarasate’s music for violin and piano. “Wonderful new recordings are still made, and this is one of them”, Mr Vroon wrote of her Spanish Dances accompanied by pianist Markus Hadulla; in turn Elaine Fine found in her playing a remarkable clarity and purity even unto the point of perfection on hearing the set of operatic fantasies that followed.

My favorite piece by Sarasate is still Zigeunerweisen, and my jaw dropped at her absolutely astonishing technique in the concluding friska that might even have Sarasate exploding in applause with the final flourish—she really makes the rosin fly at a pace that for anyone else would surely seem reckless, and yet she carries it off like the simplest of student exercises—indeed I could only nod vigorously in agreement with Lawrence Hansen’s assessment: here indeed is “a maturity and depth…a substance, subtlety, and nuance” unexpected from a young violinist who was only 17 when she began her Naxos survey—what wonders might lie ahead? (And as if that weren’t incredible enough, she set down all 24 of the Paganini Caprices at the age of 13. “This girl is scary”, wrote Mr Magil back in May/June 2002.)

On listening first online to Volume 1 (through the dinky 2” speakers that came with my computer) and then Volume 2 using my standard setup, there really isn’t much I can add to that. If there’s a violin “trick of the trade” that Sarasate failed to make use of, I can’t imagine what it might be, short of having Ms Yang stand on her thumbs as the notes claim the Belgian virtuoso Cesar Thomson used to do in concert; and if she ever misses a beat or comes up short, I sure couldn’t hear it. You gotcher double, triple and for all I know quadruple stops; you gotcher Paganini-style harmonics that Ms Yang dispenses like spun sugar; you gotcher balalaika effects (in the Canciones Rusas or “Russian Songs”, one of them—unbeknownst to the annotator apparently—also employed by Stravinsky in Petrouchka); and of course in Canto del Ruiseñor (Song of the Nightingale) you have the novelty (for Sarasate) of a simple, unadorned bel canto line that Ms Yang sets forth in suitably effusive manner. That same bel canto manner serves Sarasate well in the fantasy on Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet; the far more familiar Carmen fantasy fills out the tempestuous heroine’s best loved melodies in great swaths of color and fiery rhythms while Don Josè and Escamillo remain offstage.

But the high point of the recital has to be La Chasse, which as you might expect summons wonderful sounds from the Navarra French horns, though you may be surprised to hear echoes of Liszt’s second Hungarian Rhapsody as well. And it’s here most of all that you may appreciate what a splendid orchestra they have in Navarra, tautly led by Ernest Martinez Izquierdo.

I hope Naxos has more projects planned for Tianwa Yang: Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole and Concerto Russe immediately come to mind, or—dare I say it?—even the Paganini canon. At 24 she may already be accounted an unquestioned master of the violin; I guarantee your ears will reassure you my colleagues and I speak the truth.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Tianwa Yang is an uncommonly brilliant young violinist. With a little luck, she will be producing dazzling recordings for us for decades to come. She slipped onto the scene in 2006, edging away from the spotlight occupied by such prominent young ladies as Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer, Janine Jensen, and Sarah Chang. Tianwa Yang’s deficit of fame is partly because she is in fact younger than all of those stars—having been born in 1987—and partly because she joined the Naxos record label for a series of the complete works of Pablo de Sarasate rather than recording the usual Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Brahms for a more glamorous label.

Those who have been listening have been impressed. When Yang’s first Sarasate volume arrived in 2006, it was remarkable it introduced us to a teenage prodigy who had not only the outlandish technical wizardry which teenage prodigies often have, but also a hugely romantic sensibility. To create the formula for Tianwa Yang, one takes the average youthful virtuoso and adds a generous dash of passion. Right from the first phrase of the “Malagueña” (Op 21 No 1), so sultry and so soulful, I knew I was hearing something special.

That “something special” has now brought us her fourth Sarasate disc: there have been two recitals with pianist Markus Hadulla (vol. 1), and now two orchestral discs with the ensemble Sarasate himself founded in Pamplona. This new volume, recorded when Yang was 21 and 22, opens with the legendary Carmen Fantasy, a ravishing cocktail of Georges Bizet’s glorious tunes, Sarasate’s showy virtuosity, and the romantic passion of a trio of Spanish lovers. The Carmen Fantasy is overtly designed to be an unceasing string of “wow!” moments, but even jaded listeners will find a few. Consider the discreet portamenti in the opening tune, for instance (and harmonic portamenti at 2:28), the seductive way Yang phrases the theme at the end of this movement (2:38), the relaxed pizzicato plucks at the beginning of the seguidilla, or the almost inhuman playing at the very end.

The Gounod Romeo and Juliet fantasy really engaged me in parts, but left me waiting for the next “section” to commence at other times, mostly Sarasate’s own fault. La chasse, on the other hand, is a thrill ride, with uncommonly assertive orchestral accompaniment but an electric part for Tianwa Yang to play. After the tender, even vulnerable playing she delivers in the introduction, she introduces the big tune to us at 2:09 with a forceful joy that is utterly irresistible. And, near the end of the piece, the cellos are entrusted with an unusually (for Sarasate) sensitive melody, which the soloist discreetly accompanies. Jota de Pablo is a terrific finale, Sarasate at his beguiling Spanish best, and has the daring required to end quietly.

Not all of this music is fascinating: the Chansons ruses, for instance, are only intermittently engaging, and only somewhat Russian, and El Canto del Ruiseñor takes about three minutes to get over some dull opening material and introduce its alluringly Spanish main theme.

All throughout, Yang seduces, teases, serenades, and sings with her unique sound. How to describe the Yang sound? It’s more aggressive than most in attacking the violin’s lowest notes, which have a full but slightly rough sound that can only be described (in Sarasate, at least) as sexy. It has an almost unreal facility for harmonics, pizzicati, and double stops so well blended together that they don’t sound like double stops at all. It has a genius for occasional notes which are just murmured, to catch our ears and pull them in closer. It’s got big legato phrases that seem to explode across the concert hall in their brilliance. It demands to be heard.

The Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra has seen over a century of action since it was founded by Pablo de Sarasate, so the historical connection is a bit of a trivia game. It’s a good orchestra, but by no means great; luckily, though, this music is all about the soloist. Ernest Martínez Izquierdo is a sensitive accompanist who makes sure Tianwa Yang is given an engaging partner. The sound balance favors the soloist but at no loss to either orchestra or audience, except at the end of the Carmen fantasy, when Yang’s violin is nearly louder than the entire Navarre band. The excellent notes are by Joseph Gold, a virtuoso violinist and Sarasate expert himself.

Like all the volumes in the series, this one combines Sarasate’s justifiably famous, unjustifiably forgotten, and merely pedestrian works. But the latter have rarely had a more passionate, more brilliant advocate than Tianwa Yang, and even items like the Carmen Fantasy do not get treated with this much bravado and romantic sweep by just anybody. It occurred to me while listening to this CD that what we have here is a 23-year-old virtuoso whose closest neighbors, in terms of style, are “golden age” violinists from the days of lush vibrato, unabashed romantic ardor, and crackly monaural sound. No surprise, then, that in a recent interview Tianwa Yang said that the biggest influences on her style are “Michael Rabin…Joseph Szigeti and Adolf Busch,” especially Busch, whose “playing had a really formative influence on me”. Here, born eighty years too late, is a violinist ready to revive a long-gone sensibility. Sarasate is fortunate to have her, and so are we.

David Hurwitz, December 2010

You’re going to love this one. Now I have to confess, I’m not normally a fan of the virtuoso violin school--heck, of any violin school. Sarasate has a big advantage, though: he’s working with great tunes. Who doesn’t love Carmen? Or the bel canto sexiness of Romeo and Juliet? Canciones rusas contains the theme that became famous as the “Wet Nurses’ Dance” in Stravinsky’s Petrushka (Balakirev also used it). La chasse is remarkably atmospheric and poetic, the Jota de Pablo a celebration of the composer’s Spanish heritage. Okay, El canto del ruiseñor (The Song of the Nightingale) is one of those chirpy bird things that makes you want to throw the little critter down some oxygen-depleted Chilean mine shaft, but there are worse ways to go than death by chronic cuteness.

Tianwa Yang is a sensationally talented young violinist. She has technique to burn. Her harmonics (and there are a lot of them) dazzle with their precision and lack of “hissiness”; her left-hand pizzicatos, special bowing effects, runs, and arpeggios fit naturally within a phrase rather than sticking out like the gaudy banners on a parade float. Best of all, she has a beautiful tone in cantabile phrases (check out the Romeo and Juliet fantasy) and a really seductive way with rubato that conveys emotion without distorting the rhythm. Splendidly accompanied by Ernest Izquierdo and his Navarra players, this is a youthful, vibrant collection that just may change your mind about the virtuoso violin repertoire.

Mike D. Brownell, December 2010

Already possessing several successful albums of Pablo Sarasate’s works under her belt, Chinese-born violinist Tianwa Yang returns to Naxos for Vol. 2 of the label’s survey of Sarasate’s works for violin and orchestra. This installment includes the popular “Carmen” Fantasy as well as the less common “Romeo and Juliette” Fantasy and four additional shorter works. As in previous albums, Yang proves herself to be an absolute master of her craft. Not only does she possess a venerable, precise technique, but musical and interpretive skills to match. Rarely are the lofty technical demands of the “Carmen” Fantasy tossed off with such apparent ease and effortlessness. Yang plays with superbly accurate intonation, flawless shifts, and meticulous articulation. Add to this her pleasantly varied tone color and commanding, projecting sound and you get a violinist well-equipped to handle any literature. Far from being just a technical player, Yang also interjects copious amounts of panache, sultriness, and seductiveness that so characterize Sarasate’s works. Mature far beyond her young years, listeners will no doubt look forward to many more years of similarly captivating performances. Joining Yang is the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra providing a sensitive, rhythmically vibrant backdrop for Yang; Naxos’ sound is robust, clean, and present., October 2010

Whether strings are bowed (violin family), plucked (harpsichord family) or struck (piano, which is essentially a percussion instrument), they consistently produce some of the most interesting of all classical music—including some that has become highly familiar and some that is rarely heard at all. Actually, in the case of Pablo Sarasate, his own music can be categorized that way: heard constantly or very rarely. The second Naxos volume of Sarasate’s music for violin and orchestra, played by Tianwa Yang with the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra under Ernest Martínez Izquierdo, opens with the hyper-famous Carmen Fantasy, which here gets a strongly virtuosic treatment that also flows well as the music progresses from theme to theme. The much-less-known Roméo et Juliette fantasy makes a wonderful contrast, with its long, singing lines and beauty of tone throughout. The remaining pieces on the CD all have something special to recommend them. Canciones rusas is a setting of two Russian folk songs and includes balalaika-like pizzicato effects. El canto del ruiseñor (“Song of the Nightingale”) is, like the fantasy on Gounod’s Shakespeare-based opera, a work of emotion in which the virtuosity is largely secondary to the expressiveness. La chasse combines a suspenseful opening with a series of unusual techniques, especially the bowing toward the end. And Jota de Pablo is a personal work that, on the one hand, let Sarasate display his showmanship; and, on the other, gave him the opportunity to surprise the audience with a muted pianissimo conclusion. The élan of the performances here does full justice to the music without attempting to give it depths that it does not, and was not intended to, possess.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

In a world so grossly oversubscribed with young virtuoso violinists, Tianwa Yang stands out as a remarkable newcomer. Born in Beijing in 1987, she has now arrived at the second volume in a projected seven disc series of Pablo Sarasate’s complete works for violin and orchestra. He, like Yang, was a young violin super-star of his generation, and we tend to forget that the majority of works written by those 19th-century touring virtuosos were intended to contain such difficulties as to restrict their use to the composer. Never was it more evident than in Sarasate’s showpieces that are littered with every ‘trick of the trade’ known to violinists of the time. One format that amused and titillated audiences was the music of popular operas decorated by the virtuosos with outrageously difficult passages. The most popular of all was the Carmen Fantasy, a score that allowed the soloist to indulge in passages of the most seductive warmth and beauty before they dived into another improbable section. Yang is at times daringly slow, but when we come to the final section she defies the known speed that is possible in left hand articulation. Somehow she picks out the melody being decorated with a clarity I have never heard in another recorded performance. And so the disc continues with the equally attractive and exciting Romeo and Juliet; a soulful opening and a finale of youthful high spirits in Canciones rusas; the nightingale never singing more sweetly than in her El canto del ruiseñor; a suitably fast excursion through La chasse, and a ‘naughty’ look at Jota de Pablo. To this staggering display the Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra and Ernest Martinez Izquierdo add a colourful and mindful accompaniment. So, fervently recommended.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group