The Violin Concerto No. 2 ("The Prophets") by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is rarely played, and the Concerto Italiano of 1924 here receives its world premiere on recordings. Chinese violinist Tianwa Yang makes a good case that both should be heard more often. Castelnuovo-Tedesco termed the Concerto Italiano "almost Vivaldian," largely on the strength of the crystalline middle movement; the first movement is a big piece of Romantic heroics.
Hailed at its premiere as “a breakthrough in China’s symphonic music,” HE Zhanhao and CHEN Gang’s “Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto was later reviled during the Cultural Revolution for its Western influence and feudal Chinese inspiration. Though universally recognized among the Chinese people, the piece remains largely unknown in the West. A work of undeniable emotional appeal, it also carries with it a history that some of its biggest supporters are still struggling to digest. Borne of an uneasy union of revolutionary nationalist sentiment and Chinese urban cosmopolitanism, the musical progeny manages to be faithful to both its parents.
Anyone interested in stunning violin artistry should buy this amazing disc straightaway. It’s one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. I hadn’t come across Tianwa Yang’s Sarasate series for Naxos before but I will certainly search out the other discs as a matter of some urgency. Her playing is simply extraordinary - no wonder she’s been described as “A Pride of China”. This isn’t one of those flashy, hollow, 20-notes-a-second recitals that quite frankly drive me to distraction.