Fantasies, Rhapsodies & Daydreams

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Fantasies, Rhapsodies & Daydreams
WORKS: Massenet: Meditation from Thaïs; Ravel: Tzigane; Saint-Saëns: Havanaise; Introduction and Rondo capriccioso; Sarasate: Ziguenerweisen; Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending; Waxman: Carmen Fantasy
PERFORMER: Arabella Steinbacher (violin); Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Lawrence Foster
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 536 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Recorded in glowing sound that feels astonishingly lifelike, especially in SACD surround, this recital is something of a triumph for violinist Arabella Steinbacher. Waxman’s Fantasy on themes from Bizet’s Carmen (composed originally for Jascha Heifetz) is finger-cripplingly difficult, and it can also sound thoroughly unseductive in the wrong hands. By indulging the more lyrical passages with lashings of golden tone, Steinbacher makes it sound like a near-masterpiece.

As if to make amends for not playing Sarasate’s popular take on Carmen, Steinbacher follows on with a performance of that composer’s Zigeunerweisen that smoulders throughout the long opening section. She even finds time for some sleight-of-hand sul ponticello when the notes start flying.

In an ideal world, Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending would be played with a faster, narrower vibrato than Steinbacher’s to sound at its most radiant; yet so eloquently natural are her musical responses that this feels like carping in this context.

Saint-Saëns’s two old warhorses likewise sound resplendent, the Introduction and Rondo capriccioso particularly so, with its pedal-pointed double-stopping and heart-warming cadencing into F major. Even Massenet’s Méditation emerges sounding freshly minted, so achingly supple is Steinbacher’s phrasing.

Saving perhaps the best till last, Ravel’s Tzigane, whose opening extended cadenza simmers seductively in a twilight world ravishingly free of bar-lines and pyrotechnical display.

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Julian Haylock