New Classical Tracks: Violin Virtuosity

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
June 7, 2011
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Sarasate: Music for Violin and Orchestra, Vol. 3 - Naxos 8.572275

Tianwa Yang, violin; Navarra Symphony Orchestra/Ernest Martinez Izquierdo

St. Paul, Minn. — When Tianwa Yang made her debut with the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz two years ago, the Seattle Times wrote, "this young woman could outplay the devil!" This young dynamo has been studying violin since age four. At age ten she entered the Central Conservatory of Music Beijing. Her appearance at the 1999 Beijing Music Festival caught the attention of legendary violinist Isaac Stern, who immediately invited her to study with him in the United States. One year later, when she was just 13, she recorded the 24 caprices of Paganini, making her the youngest violinist ever to interpret these challenging works. For the past six years Yang has been collaborating with Naxos Records to record the complete works of the great 19th-century Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate. She has just completed the fifth of that seven-CD series.

I believe Tianwa Yang and Sarasate could have been soul mates. Both were child prodigies, and both found inspiration through instruments crafted by the French violin maker, Jean Baptiste Vuillaume. On this recording, Tianwa Yang plays the composer's own Vuillaume violin, which is on loan to her thanks to the Sarasate Museum, in his home town of Pamplona.

Critics are awestruck every time Tianwa Yang picks up her violin.

In fact this disc is a multi-faceted tribute to Sarasate, since the orchestra here is the Navarra Symphony Orchestra, founded by the composer himself. Their conductor is Ernest Martinez Izquierdo.

Sarasate was born in 1844. He entered the Paris Conservatory at age 12, winning the conservatory's highest honor at age 17 which ignited his solo career. Early on he performed his own opera fantasies, two of which appear on this new release. Tianwa Yang opens this recording with a Concert Fantasy on Mozart's "The Magic Flute." In this piece, Sarasate showed off his incredible flexibility by requiring a stunning fingering technique that stretches two notes beyond a regular octave. Tianwa Wang has no trouble meeting Sarasate's virtuosic challenge.

Sarasate often played his "Navarra," for two violins with Enrique Fernandez-Arbos, a performer who also wrote pieces especially for Sarasate. In this performance, Tianwa Yang partners with the spirit of the composer himself. She plays one part with Sarasate's Vuillaume violin, and the second part with the Vuillaume on which she ordinarily performs. This light-hearted Spanish dance is actually a demanding showpiece. At times the two violins are in close harmony. There are also points where one plays the melody while the other joins with a pizzicato accompaniment. Swirling intertwining lines take both parts high into the musical stratosphere requiring death-defying bowing pyrotechnics.

"Muineiras" opens with the drone of bagpipes, a familiar sound in Sarasate's homeland of Northern Spain. It dates back to Sarasate's first concert tour of the Americas. The manuscript is dated "New York, 26-2-1872." This traditional folk dance is a perfect vehicle for Tianwa's fiery technique, and her sultry passion.

Sarasate made nine recordings in 1904 for the G&T Company. One of the pieces he recorded was the Caprice Jota, which is the final piece on this disc. The piece opens with a charming Barcarolle, leading up to the incredible Jota

Sarasate was hailed for the purity and beauty of his tone, the perfection of his technique and his musical command. Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw once said Pablo de Sarasate's composing and performing talents "left criticism gasping miles behind him." So far, critics are awestruck every time Tianwa Yang picks up her violin. Her expressive technique and her ability to throw caution to the winds with each stroke of her bow make this young player an exciting new presence on the musical scene.

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