Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie / Ricci – A No-Better-than-Decent Decca Reissue

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

This Ace of Diamonds UK pressing of the famous Ricci recording has fairly good sound, but it is a far cry from the real thing on either Decca or London disc.

The right originals are just too good. There is nothing like them. They are simply amazing recordings, the likes of which have not been equaled in fifty or more years. If you want that sound, you’d better plan on going back to 1960 or thereabouts to find it.

The Speakers Corner Reissue was my first exposure to this music and I fell in love with it. I recommended it highly back in the days when I was selling Heavy Vinyl. I haven’t heard one in years but my guess is that you are much better off with this Decca Ace of Diamonds pressing that anything Speakers Corner might have put out.

These are our comments for the last killer copy we had on the site.

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

The Average Copy

When you play a copy of this record and hear a smeared, veiled violin, don’t be too surprised. 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

These two sides can show you how good the violin — and the whole orchestra — can sound. They’re tonally correct from top to bottom, transparent and sweet. The texture on the strings is PERFECTION.

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 have ever played, these sides had the most of a quality that goes a long way in the world of classical music. As we went through the various copies, we noticed that the sound on the best sides 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.)

Once you spot the relaxed copies, you find they tend to do every other thing well, and that’s what it takes to win shootouts — doing everything well.


Side One

Bizet Arr. Sarasate, Carmen – Fantaisie
Sarasate – Zigeunerweisen

Side Two

Saint-Saëns – Havanaise
Saint-Saëns – Introduction And Rondo Capriccioso

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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