Sounds of Sarasate

Pablo de Sarasate’s violin showpieces evoke the sunny, exotic warmth of Spain. A violinist and composer, Sarasate (1844-1908) contributed greatly to the development of the violin. Here are a few legendary performances of his short, technically dazzling pieces.

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We’ll start with a performance of Zapateado from Midori’s 1990 Carnegie Hall debut recital. I featured another piece from this recital in a past post. Zapato is the Spanish word for “shoe.” Zapateado is a dance which originated with native Mexicans and was discovered by Spanish explorers who brought it back to Europe. You’ll hear violinistic effects such as left hand pizzicato, up bow staccato and harmonics:

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Here is a 1952 recording of Ruggiero Ricci playing Playera. He is accompanied on the piano by the legendary violinist and teacher,  Louis Persinger. Listen to the persistent underlying dance rhythm and the seductive vocal quality of the violin line:

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One of my favorite recordings of Romanza Andaluza is Itzhak Perlman’s with Samuel Sanders on the piano:

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Sarasate’s most famous piece may be Zigeunerweisen, or “Gypsy Airs.” Here is a 1959 recording of Michael Rabin with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Felix Slatkin. Rabin’s life was cut short tragically, but his recordings cement his legacy as one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists:

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Leave a comment in the thread below with your thoughts on these performances. Also, share your favorite Sarasate recordings. Which violinists do you particularly admire and why?

The Last Rose of Summer

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It’s hard to believe but Labor Day weekend is here, marking the official end of summer. Leaves are beginning to change color. The days are getting shorter and a chill is creeping into the night air, reminding us of the inevitability of what’s around the corner. Let’s bid summer a fond farewell by listening to one of the most technically demanding pieces ever written for the violin, Variations on “The Last Rose of Summer” by Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst. Ernst (1812-1865) was a violinist and composer who followed in the footsteps of Paganini, touring Europe as a rock star virtuoso and expanding the technical possibilities of the violin.

This clip is from Midori’s extraordinary 1991 Carnegie Hall debut. She played the sold out concert four days before her nineteenth birthday. The excitement and electricity in the air and the sense of occasion are palpable. This interesting New York Times piece featuring Midori came out in the days following the recital.

Notice the combination of dazzling violinistic effects employed, from double stops and left hand pizzicato to harmonics, up bow staccato and spiccato bowing. Watch closely, because there are moments when this piece seems like a magic act. Is one violin really playing all that? Listen to how many variations can spring from this beautiful melody:

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And now, for a final ode to fading summer, here is the original melody, sung by Renee Fleming: