Lalo, Ravel, Saint-Sa‘ns & Sarasate

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Lalo,Ravel,Saint-Sa‘ns & Sarasate
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Howard Zhang
WORKS: Works by Lalo, Ravel, Saint-Saëns & Sarasate
PERFORMER: Howard Zhang (violin); Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Takuo Yuasa
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555093
Firework displays are short. Why? The ruinous expense, of course, but also a law of diminishing returns that applies to anything that fizzes and sparkles spectacularly. After a while, and not a very long while, they become boring. In light of this natural law it is paradoxically a blessing that Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole is such a damp squib. It’s not really a symphony, except in length, nor is it a successful virtuoso piece, being too long and diffuse. It tires us not through excessive excitement but through the very lack of it. But in the context of 19-year-old Howard Zhang’s survey of Spanish-tinged showpieces, it at least leaves the listener relatively fresh for the better stuff to come.

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Zhang’s performance of Ravel’s Tzigane drips with gypsy passion, or at least what we non-gypsies think of as such, and a kind of swaying obduracy is nicely captured both in the work and in Zhang’s performance. His Saint-Saëns Havanaise is a lovely, easeful vision, followed by a splendidly effervescent Sarasate Carmen Fantasy.

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Full marks must go to Takuo Yuasa’s stewardship of the Hungarian-based orchestra, the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia, which in the characterfulness of its playing supplies much more than mere accompaniment. Christopher Wood