LALO: Symphonie Espagnole / RAVEL / SAINT-SAENS / SARASATE (Zhang) (Howard Zhang/ Ibolya Toth/ Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia/ Takuo Yuasa) (Naxos: 8.555093)
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(1823-1892): Symphonie espagnole
, Op. 21 (1874)Maurice Ravel
, Op. 83 (1887)Pablo de Sarasate
(1844-1908): Carmen Fantasy
, Op. 25 (1883) Edouard Lalo's Symphonie espagnole
is among the most popular works in the violinist's repertoire. Lalo may have a Spanish name, but his family had established themselves in northern France in the 16th century. The composer was born in Lille in 1823, the son of a father who had served in Napoleon's armies. Early training at Lille Conservatoire in violin and cello was followed, at the age of sixteen, by a brief period of study in Paris with the violinist and conductor Habeneck and private lessons in composition. In Paris, in independence of his father, who disapproved of his son's choice of career, he earned a living as a violinist and teacher, while writing music that did not achieve the success he needed. From the 1850s he worked as a viola player in the Armingaud Quartet and later in a quartet of his own, ensembles that did much to re-introduce to the French public the classical quartet repertoire of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. It was not until the 1870s that Lalo began to make an impression as a composer, with performances of his Violin Concerto in 1874 by the Spanish virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, to whom the Symphonie espagnole
of the same year was dedicated. This was followed by other orchestral compositions, including the successful Cello Concerto and a series of works for solo violin and orchestra. Still greater success came at last in 1888 with the production of his opera Le roi d'Ys
at the Opera-Comique, after a series of earlier operatic disappointments. He died in 1892.
The Symphonie espagnole
is a symphony only in name. The mood of the work is established at the start with the brief orchestral introduction, followed by the entry of the soloist and the characteristic rhythms of the principal theme. The second scherzando movement, with its contrasting central section, is followed by a typically Spanish Intermezzo and a lyrically moving slower movement that grows in intensity with its idiomatically Spanish turns of phrase. The work ends with a final Rondo of bright elegance and charm in which there is ample opportunity for virtuoso display.
The son of a father of Swiss origin and a mother whose family came from the Basque country, Maurice Ravel enjoyed a controversial career at the Paris Conservatoire, to which he returned in 1897 to study with Gabriel Faure, who had at last been appointed to the teaching staff. His failure to win any composition prize and, above all, to secure the Prix de Rome
, although he had already made something of a name for himself as a composer, caused a scandal and changes at the Conservatoire that resulted in the appointment of Faure as director. Ravel's famous Tzigane
was written in 1924 for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Aranyi, whose own improvised additions the composer added to the completed work. Ravel reportedly remarked that he had no idea what she was doing, as she played the piece, but that he liked it. The gypsy Tzigane
remains a show-piece of the violin repertoire, whether in the original version for violin and piano or in the version for violin and orchestra, a work designed by the composer to test the musical and technical ability of any performer and later described by one of Ravel's friends as a violinist's minefield. Tzigane
captures the spirit of gypsy improvisation, its art successfully concealing art.
The life of Camille Saint-Sa?½ns spanned a vast period of musical change, from the age of Schumann and of Mendelssohn, to whom he was once compared, to that of Ravel and Debussy. His varied works embrace almost every conceivable genre and include two violin concertos written for Sarasate, as well as the very Spanish Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso
. The same Spanish element informs the well-known Havanaise
of 1887, a work that he had begun two years earlier in Brest, while on tour with the violinist Raphael Diaz Albertini, to whom it is dedicated. It is intended to suggest the graceful movements and allure of a young Havana girl.
The Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate studied in Paris and at the age of fifteen started a concert career that was to bring him fame throughout Europe and the Americas. Composers who wrote for him include Bruch, and his fellow-violinists Joachim and Wieniawski. His Carmen Fantasy
, one of a number of such fantasies, based on popular operatic melodies, has been dated to 1883. It presents a medley from Bizet's opera, which had enjoyed success after its controversial opening in 1875. Sarasate offers variations on the material, while the original orchestration of Bizet's opera remains relatively unchanged. The prelude to the fourth act of the opera is heard, while Carmen's seductive 'Habanera' forms part of the Moderato movement, with variations that lead to a Lento assai, also a series of variations. The Allegro moderato paves the way for a virtuoso finale.