An Extraordinary Recording on London of the Carmen Fantasie

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This London Whiteback LP has DEMO DISC sound like you will not believe, especially on side two, which earned our coveted A Triple Plus rating. The sound is warm, sweet and transparent; in short, absolutely GORGEOUS. We call it AGAIG — As Good As It Gets!

As this is one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time, it is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophle’s collection. (If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.) Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout.

And side one was just a step below the second side in terms of sound quality, with very solid A++ sound. To find two sides of this calibre, on quiet vinyl no less, is no mean feat. You could easily go through ten copies without finding one as consistently good sounding as this one. (In March of 2009 we had a copy with a single A++ side — hard enough to find — that sold for $150, so that makes this copy a relative bargain.)

A True Demo Disc, Or Was It?

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater perforrmance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal.

Which is why I’ve had a copy of this record in my own collection for about fifteen years marked “My Demo Disc”. But this copy KILLED it. How could that be?

It just goes to show: No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better. Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of records. Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us) you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort.

The Average Copy

When you play a copy of this record and hear a smeared, veiled violin, don’t be too surprised. When the orchestra comes in and is full of the worst kind of compressor distortion, likewise, this is not the least bit unusual, in fact it’s pretty much par for the course. The soundstage may be huge: spacious and 3-D; it is on most copies. But what good is a record of violin showpieces if the violin doesn’t sound right?

Sides One and Two

Side two here shows you how good the violin — and the whole orchestra — can sound. It’s tonally correct from top to bottom, transparent and sweet. The texture on the strings is PERFECTION. Ricci is a little more distant than he is on side one; these pieces are less about the “violin-in-your-lap” effect and more about the violin as an integrated member of the orchestra.

Of all the copies we played, this side had the most of a quality that goes a long way in the world of classical music. As we sent through the various copies, we noticed that the sound on this side was especially RELAXED. (Compare that to the typical Classic Records heavy vinyl pressing, which, on the relaxation scale of one to ten, rates a lot closer to one than it does to ten. Between one and two probably.)

Side one was not quite as rich and weighty as side two, so we marked it down to A++. Although it may not be the best side one we have ever played, it still ranks as an incredible DEMO DISC for the first piece, the reworking of Carmen by Sarasate as a showpiece for violin, which has violin fireworks the likes of which you may have never heard. Ricci is The King on these romantic works. His playing will leave you in awe of the man. It just doesn’t get much better than this.

See more commentaries as well as our in stock recordings featuring the violin

Liner Notes

Pablo de Sarasate was one of the great nineteenth century violin virtuoso-composers of whom Paganini was the archetype and Fritz Kreisler the last surviving representative. Without exception, therefore, all the many pieces written and arranged by Sarasate are virtuoso fiddler’s music, designed expressly to show off his own commanding skill. They are in the nature of effervescent trifles conceived in terms of spectacular violin technique and intended to be thrown off with faultless polish and panache. However, despite the difficulties, Sarasate was a consummate musician thoroughly versed in the classics, and his own compositions are imaginatively contrived to give genuine musical as well as performing satisfaction. In the realm of virtuoso violin music his name stood during his lifetime and remains today on the highest plane of achievement.

Much of his music has a Spanish flavour—the four books of Spanish dances exploit the rhythms and idioms of Sarasate’s native country and add to them on imaginative use of advanced violin technique.

The Havanaise is based upon the rhythm of the Habanera, the themes languid and intense except for some legitimate passages of virtuoso writing. There is a brilliant coda in which the violinist disports himself in bravura over an insistent bass Habanera rhythm. The piece ends very softly, a feature that is as welcome as it is unusual in virtuoso music.

Both this and the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso are typical products of their composer. To modern ears his music sounds easy to assimilate, and yet in his time (as is often the case) it was found revolutionary. The Danse Macabre was hissed at its first performance [!]… However, the sweetness and clarity of his musical thought have always endeared him to the public.

 

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