Sarasate, Saint-Sa‘ns, Wieniawski, Massenet, Massenet & Chausson

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COMPOSERS: Massenet,Massenet & Chausson,Saint-Sa‘ns,Sarasate,Wieniawski
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Bohemian Rhapsodies
WORKS: Carmen Fantasy; Zigeunerweisen; Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso; Polonaise No. 1; Méditation from Thaïs; Tzigane; Poème
PERFORMER: Leila Josefowicz (violin); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/ Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: 454 440-2
Violinists have long traded on the association of the fiddle and gypsy music, enabling them to titillate their audiences with suggestions of sensual and even diabolic excess, and there is much in that tradition in the violin repertory where technical difficulty masks a rather empty aesthetic.

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Luckily, Leila Josefowicz mines a rather wider seam than the title of her disc implies, although she kicks off with Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. Here, the violin imitates the mournfulness – and scornfulness – of the human voice. Though it lacks Carmen’s voluptuousness, especially in the ‘Habanera’, the quickfire shifts of register summon up a corresponding haughtiness, as do the theatrical rubatos in Sarasate’s other gypsy piece, Zigeunerweisen.

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Josefowicz is equally at home in Ravel’s Tzigane, whose dramatic, unaccompanied opening leads to a rumbustious finale in which the violin is plucked like a guitar and made (almost) to bray like an ass. These high jinks and high tessitura are palliated by the smooth and measured playing of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields under Neville Marriner, and also by the well-judged programme, which comes to a sumptuous and melodic conclusion in Chausson’s exquisite Poème. William Humphreys-Jones