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Harry van der Wal
Harry’s classical music corner, April 2017

As the previous instalments in this series, nothing disappoints. If you like Sarasate these are the discs to have, by reason of Tianwa Yang. She is probably one of the best young violinists I encountered recently. With the start of this series, I was amazed about such musicality and an absolute commitment to the technical aspects of the violin. I still gasp at her virtuosity and not for a few seconds. All the pieces on this CD are easy to approach, there is no hurdle to like this music instantly. Melodious, romantic and fiery in expression, the fleet fingers of Yang will play it all and more. © 2017 Harry’s classical music corner Read complete review

WETA, October 2012

In this third volume of works for violin and orchestra, there are two examples of Sarasate’s favorite type of composition as a young composer (he was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire when he started his concert career at age 15): concert fantasies on opera themes.  Here, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Gounod’s Faust are the subjects.  A barcarolle and a caprice are also included.  In Navarra, both solo violin parts are played by Tianwa Yang; one on her own violin, and the other part on Sarasate’s violin, on loan from the Sarasate Museum, courtesy of the Pamplona Town Council. © 2012 WETA Read complete article

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, December 2011

Tianwa Yang’s best album yet, which is really saying something, given she is a 22-year-old prodigy whose technical perfection is surpassed by her technicolor sound and emotional fire…from ‘Navarra’ to album’s end, the music and playing are so electric there were probably sparks flying off the violin. © MusicWeb International

Duncan Druce
Gramophone, October 2011

Tianwa Yang plays with dexterity and lightness in her Sarasate survey

Despite doing without any of his most popular pieces, this third installment of Sarasate’s music for violin and orchestra makes a most attractive programme. Sarasate may not be a very ambitious composer, relying on uncomplicated melodic forms and simple harmonies, but he’s constantly inventive.

The most famous piece here is Navarra (recorded by David and Igor Oistrakh). Tianwa Yang plays both the virtuoso violin parts and her performance is bright and spirited, sounding entirely natural and “real”.

Yang is splendidly equipped as a Sarasate violinist, with her clear tone, pure intonation, impressive dexterity and light touch. The opening unaccompanied drone passage of Muiñeiras is startlingly beautiful. The two opera fantasies are lively and entertaining, especially that on The Magic Flute where, for the most part, Sarasate sensitively keeps to the original harmonies while cleverly developing and decorating Mozart’s melodies. The Barcarolle introduces subtle orchestral touches to heighten the mysterious nocturnal atmosphere. With the Introduction and Caprice-Jota, Tianwa Yang comes into competition with Sarasate himself, who recorded (with piano) a shortened version in 1904. She is more accurate than he, especially with regard to tuning, and of course, thanks to modern recording strengths and colourful orchestration, the sound is much more beautiful. But I missed the composer’s manic energy, as well as his graceful, elegant portamentos. For all that, Yang’s playing is consistently lovely, capturing an essential part of the music’s spirit.

Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, September 2011

…I described Tianwa Yang’s playing as “perfect”, a word I reserve for only the rarest of circumstances and the rarest of violinists. I have to use it again for this recording. In addition to perfection, this third volume is full of surprise and delight; surprise because aside from ‘Navarra’ all the music is new to me, and delight because I love it all.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, September 2011

The third volume of violinist Tianwa Yang’s survey of the music for violin and orchestra of Pablo de Sarasate includes fantasies on themes from the operas The Magic Flute (Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst had written a Rondo Papageno) and Faust, a work for two violins (Navarra) often performed by David and Igor Oistrakh, and three other pieces, one of which, the Introduction and Caprice-Jota, Sarasate himself recorded, with piano, in 1904. If Yang doesn’t sound exactly like Sarasate (really, nobody nowadays does—or maybe would want to), she doesn’t overwhelm the Fantasy on The Magic Flute with indulgent portamentos and heavy articulation. In fact, though, her tone sounds robust in the lower registers (she plays in this piece and in the first violin part of the Navarra on Sarasate’s 1842 Vuillaume, and her own Vuillaume in the rest of the recital), but as bright and clear as anyone could wish in the upper ones. Listeners may find it anomalous that much of the middle section of this fantasy explores the instrument’s tonal regions—before returning to left-hand pizzicatos and other fireworks before the sparkling conclusion—in which Yang, as we have come to expect, creates a hair-raising pyrotechnical display. Negotiating both violin parts in the Navarra (one on each of the Vuillaumes), Yang raises the perennial question, does the unanimity of a performance of two parts by a single violinist diminish the sense of interplay? In this case, in which the two violins play for the most part in parallel (unlike, say, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Double Concerto, which Jascha Heifetz played by himself), the close interaction, when it doesn’t simply sound like double-stops, adds to the excitement. The Oistrakhs may have played it a bit faster (though not at the end), but sometimes their performances sound rushed, and this one doesn’t—plenty of ethnic exoticism squeezes through the tightly controlled ensemble playing. Incidentally, Aaron Rosand also recorded this piece alone.

Muiñeras opens with bagpipe-like drones and proceeds to an exuberant, rollicking unfolding of simple folk-like material laced with virtuosic passagework. Once again, Yang proves herself as capable of communicating Sarasate’s more lyrical ideas as his most brilliant ones (though this Vuillaume may strike listeners as less warm on the G string and less silvery on the E string than Sarasate’s own). The Fantasy on Faust seems, from the beginning, a more stunning exposition of the violin’s capabilities, and Sarasate’s characteristic exploitation of them. Of the compositions on Yang’s program, this one has been frequently recorded, though usually with piano. Yang’s liquid runs near the end may remind listeners of Sarasate’s own in the Habanera he recorded in 1904.

The Barcarolle vénitienne is a much less familiar composition (in fact, however, much of Sarasate’s music remains unfamiliar, perhaps due to the decline in popularity of the concert and opera fantasies with which he once delighted his audiences) but a substantial one that, at almost 10 minutes’ duration, bears little affinity to the other works on the program, appearing almost to be a tone poem with a prominent violin solo. Yang, Ernest Martinez Izquierdo, and the orchestra create a thick atmosphere rich in allusions. Sarasate himself recorded the Caprice-Jota (without its roughly two-minute introduction), and listening to him gives a sense of how very differently later players approached his music (remember the great Russian violinists and their large-scale readings?). But Yang, whatever her tonal weight, still possesses the sharp rhythmic impulse to make this dance-like music exciting.

The engineers have not brought Yang so far forward that she doesn’t occasionally seem to be swallowed in the orchestral sound, but it’s clear that she’s a brilliant soloist throughout, and if listening to her no longer creates the impression of first love that I mentioned in reviewing her first recording of Sarasate’s music (Fanfare 30:4), familiarity certainly hasn’t bred contempt. Urgently recommended.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, July 2011

Naxos has released Volume 3 of the projected 8-volume series of the complete Music for Violin and Orchestra by Sarasate (8.572275). I wrote a glowing review of the earlier volumes a few years ago, and this latest CD is clearly their equal. The young Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang is again simply brilliant throughout, playing Sarasate’s own violin on two of the tracks. The Orquesta Sinfonica de Navarra (founded by Sarasate himself in 1879) under Ernest Martinez Izquierdo provides the most idiomatic support imaginable. And don’t think for a moment that the standard of the works themselves is lagging as the series proceeds: the Concert Fantasy on Mozart’s Die Zauberflõte is dazzling; Navarra (with the soloist double-tracked) is an exuberant duet; the bagpipe-influenced Muineiras is a delight. The Nouvelle fantasie sur Faust de Gounod, the Barcarolle venitienne and the Introduction et Caprice-Jota complete an immensely satisfying, entertaining and probably definitive disc.

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, June 2011

Violinist Tianwa Yang’s series of the complete Sarasate has been absolutely fantastic so far, with surprisingly good music and spectacular solo playing. This is possibly the best volume yet. None of the really famous works are here, but nearly all of these pieces are stunningly good. The program is rewarding, and as for Tianwa Yang—well, I’d say she is better than ever, but is that possible?

Take track 2: “Navarra”, for two violins and orchestra, with Yang, thanks to the miracle of technology, taking both parts. One solo she plays on her Vuillaume violin; the other she plays on the 1842 Vuillaume which was Pablo Sarasate’s own violin. But never mind the historical connection, as exciting as it is: listen to the sound, the electrical sparks which fly all around from the first seconds, the mad current of energy which thrills through that first tune. The two violins blend perfectly, seamlessly, like one instrument. Indeed, if there’s a flaw, it’s that the precision with which the two solos match each other sounds slightly artificial—despite actually being the product of real takes played by a real violinist.

In “Navarra”, Tianwa Yang plays two violins at once. In “Muiñeiras” and the Gounod Faust fantasy, it only sounds like she does! “Muiñeiras” begins with a surprising evocation of bagpipes and Celtic fiddling, with the familiar bass drone and a very Irish folk tune overlaid on top. Both sounds are provided by the violinist, and frankly, I have no idea how this is done—aside from “rarely”: only one other recording of the work is available, and it’s for the piano reduction. That Tianwa Yang actually makes this sound easy, indeed makes it sound fun, is one of the CD’s occasional reminders that this is no ordinary violinist. She plays solo for a full minute before the orchestra steps in, and the joy of “Muiñeiras” is that it sustains its melodic inspiration for the full ten-minute span.

The Faust fantasy opens with that combination of bluster and wit which can be heard in all romantic evocations of the devil. The episodes from Gounod’s opera unfold naturally; I’d rank this alongside Carmen as one of the most effective Sarasate potpourris of operatic tunes. The Magic Flute fantasy captured my attention less, for though Yang sounds spectacular on the composer’s violin, Mozart’s tunes are simply less in keeping with Sarasate’s big romantic style, and a couple of the individual segments wear out their welcomes. The Venetian barcarolle sounds much more exotic than the typical romantic “gondolier song”; a bit like Saint-Saens in north Africa, and Yang squeezes every last drop of lyricism out of its tunes. The final Caprice-Jota is a delightful Spanish finish: it starts with an instantly gorgeous melody, but that’s just the preamble to a deliciously energetic five-minute jota replete with grinning tunes and impossible-sounding double stops. It’s a lovely program, and quite the tour of Europe, from the Pyrenees to Ireland, from Venice to Spain again with a stop at the home of the Queen of the Night.

It’s partly the music on offer that makes this the most satisfying volume yet. I knew nothing of Muiñeiras, the Faust fantasy, or the barcarolle before hearing them and was completely won over. It’s also partly down to the outstanding contributions of the Navarra Symphony Orchestra, whose woodwind soloists are called on for a number of big roles. Sarasate is, in fact, a very good orchestrator, and the ensemble he founded back in 1879 is still very much up to the task. The sound presents an ideal balance between orchestra and soloist.

My previous comments on the “Tianwa Yang sound” still stand: she does indeed have her own style, perfect intonation coupled with a big, rich sound that has none of the graininess or rough texture of lesser lights. And yet she doesn’t have the quicksilver shimmer of players like James Ehnes, either, because her tone is wide and multicolored. It’s at its best in lower registers, mid-portamento—which is joyfully often—and in pianissimo passages or in the pianissimo notes she loves to dip down to in the middle of phrases for ear-catching emphasis. She’s told interviewers that her biggest influences are violinists of the so-called Golden Age, like Joseph Szigeti and Adolf Busch. This album, then, is a sort of time capsule: Pablo Sarasate’s music gloriously restored to its place onstage, performed by his own orchestra and partly on his own violin, by a violinist raised on a long-gone style of playing. Only there is a chance that what we are hearing is not a portal back to a golden age, but the beginning of a new one.

Mike D. Brownell, June 2011

Continuing on her highly successful and enjoyable survey of Pablo Sarasate’s music for violin and orchestra, Chinese-born violinist Tianwa Yang returns for a third installment of the Spanish violinist-composer’s music with Naxos. Volume Three incorporates more of Sarasate’s lesser-known compositions—with the exception of the Op. 33 Navarra—into a program that is no less enthralling than previous volumes. Yang has an uncanny ability to turn uncommon compositions into dazzling spectacles that make listeners feel as if they’ve known the work all their lives. Her performance of Navarra is a stunning display as Yang executes not one, but both solo violin parts on her own. Her pacing, tone, and dynamics make for a truly seductive musical experience, and she easily captures the Spanish flair and bravura that characterizes Sarasate. Her technique is all but flawless, bringing spotless intonation, wonderfully controlled right arm articulation, and an almost inhuman ability to dash around the fingerboard and effortlessly nail even the biggest shifts. Yang is joined by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra under Ernest Martínez Izquierdo who matches Yang’s musical panache measure for measure with a big, robust tutti sound that never once obscures the soloist. Naxos’ sound is clean and vibrant, allowing listeners to enjoy the natural, sophisticated beauty of Yang’s tone.

Frank Behrens
Art Times, June 2011

“Sarasate plays at the St James’s Hall this afternoon,” says Sherlock Holmes, after hearing about the strange events concerning the Red-headed League from a client. And the music of Sarasate plays on a newly released CD on the Naxos label with the title “Sarasate: Music for Violin and Orchestra-3, Fantasies on The Magic Flute and Faust.”

Pablo Sarasate (1844–1908) was a great attraction in the concert halls where he emulated Paganini with a virtuoso and very physical playing of his own music and that of others. One of his favorite formats was that of the concert fantasy, in which a set of popular melodies would be played and then improvised upon, not unlike the theme-and-variation development but in a much more freely imaginative style. This disc holds a fantasy on Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote” and his second fantasy on Gounod’s “Faust.”

The other works are his “Navarra (for two violins and orchestra),” “Muineriras,” “Barcarolle venitienne” (arranged for violin and orchestra), and “Introduction and Caprice-Jota.” It is all stunningly played by the young Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang, accompanied by the Orquestra Sinfonica de Navarra, conducted by Ernest Martinez Izquierdo. And yes, Yang does play both violin parts in the “Navarra.”

After my first hearing, I had to play it through again that very day to determine if I had found another permanent CD for my collection. I had., April 2011

There is plenty of pleasure…in the third volume of Naxos’ survey of Pablo Sarasate’s music for violin and orchestra. Do not seek profundity here—there is none to be found, although Tianwa Yang plays these works with great skill, considerable warmth and real style—and is wonderfully accompanied by Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra, which Sarasate himself founded in 1879. Sarasate’s Magic Flute fantasy is quite as well put together and interesting as his better-known one on Carmen, and the second of his two treatments of Gounod’s Faust (the only opera on which Sarasate wrote two fantasies) is as effective as the first. The other works here are surface-level but no less interesting to hear for all that. Navarra is for two violins, and Yang plays both, thanks to the wonders of modern recording—and, in fact, she performs on two different Stradivarius instruments, which is quite something. Muiňeiras is a slight work with some interesting bagpipe-like effects; the Barcarolle vénitienne is appropriately atmospheric; and the Introduction et Caprice-Jota ends the CD splendidly in a burst of virtuosic fireworks that showcases not only the composer’s tremendous abilities but also those of Yang.

David Hurwitz, April 2011

It’s really a crime that you’ll almost never encounter this music at so-called “serious” symphonic concerts. If you put together the last three numbers on this recording—the “Faust” Fantasy, Barcarolle, and Caprice-Jota—you have a perfect, concerto-length triptych in fast, slow, fast form. It would be a spectacular, audience-pleasing showcase for the soloist, and I have no doubt that Ms Yang would enjoy taking it on tour. The problem today is that orchestras and (especially) conductors are so shy of learning “new” music, and concert promoters are so terrified of anything that’s not the same old stuff, that creative programming is practically impossible with major, well-established (meaning the best) orchestras.

Happily we can enjoy the music on disc. As in previous releases in this series, Tianwa Yang plays marvelously, fearlessly, and with great freshness and verve. Her technique is impeccable—note the immaculately-tuned harmonics in the Caprice-Jota, or her nicely grainy, “primal” drone-bass timbre at the start of Muiñeiras. She’s a joy to listen to, and Ernest Izquierdo’s accompaniments have all the poetry and shameless gusto that’s necessary to convince us that we’re listening to music of real quality, never mind the flash. Naxos’ sonics offer ideal balances, and flatter both soloist and orchestra. Few projects in recent days have proven themselves more lovable than this series.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2011

Tianwa Yang was surely born to play the music of Pablo Sarasate, this, the third volume of his works for violin and orchestra, another stunning exhibition of virtuosity. Yet as she has shown in previous discs, her quiet moments are magical, and they set into relief those moments when she can cut loose and dazzle us with scintillating bravura. Sarasate, like Yang, was a young violin super-star of his generation, and it was to keep ahead of the field that encouraged him to compose works of such difficulty only a handful of violinists could perform them. Often he used the crowd-pleasing format of writing extravagant concert fantasies on popular operatic melodies. They were not all unrelenting showpieces, that on themes from The Magic Flute often using subtle effects, but still requiring remarkable dexterity as the violin dances around the orchestral part. I’m not sure I like the gimmick of Yang recording both parts of the violin duo for Navarra, but by playing Sarasate’s Vuillaume violin together with her own instrument by the same maker does yield some beautiful sounds. Having opened in disarming simplicity Muineiras turns into a minefield of dexterity;the Faust Fantasy is full of character; the Barcarolle suitably nocturnal, with the fireworks saved for the final Introduction et Caprice-Jota. Not all top-drawer Sarasate, but Yang makes it an irresistible purchase, the Spanish orchestra, conducted by Ernest Martínez Izquierdo, giving fulsome support, all wrapped up in a well-balanced recording.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group