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Tessa Lark's debut CD "Fantasy": spirit, warmth, and technical brilliance

On the evidence of this musically engaging programme, violinist Tessa Lark has a canny ability to adjust her approach according to the stylistic dictates of whatever she’s playing. Her own Kentucky grass roots sing out from her Appalachian Fantasy, a lively essay, all sun and haystacks, played with a combination of spirit and technical brilliance. She’s ‘one hell of a fiddler’ (if I may momentarily slip into the appropriate vernacular), the 1683 ex-Gingold Strad that she plays (courtesy of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis) perfectly focused on Judith Sherman’s fastidiously balanced recording.

The disc opens with one of three Telemann solo Fantasies programmed, a sort of ‘Bach in miniature’, beautiful pieces all three, dispatched by Lark with ease and telling musicality. Schubert’s late violin masterwork, his Fantasie in C, poses rather more in the way of interpretative challenges for both pianist and violinist but Lark, ably aided by Amy Yang, achieves a performance that combines warmth and virtuosity: when the ‘Sei mir gegrüsst’ variations arrive her tone is pure sweetness, whereas the finale witnesses keen, crunchy arpeggios that never sound ugly.

In Kreisler’s nine-minute Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta – a lovely piece that ought to be heard more often – Lark avoids the temptation to pile on the schmaltz and instead adopts a ‘less is more’ policy that stresses the work’s aching melancholy, at least initially. The programme ends with Ravel’s Tzigane, a good performance, though here Lark indulges the sort of overkill that she had so carefully avoided in the Kreisler, applying one or two exaggerated portamentos that sound too studied and therefore out of place. Devices such as this need to come across as played on the spur of the moment (and ‘the moment’ will always benefit); if they don’t, the effect is oddly affected, as it is here. In other respects, Lark and Yang acquit themselves royally and the sound is, as I say, superb. Recommended.

 

Rob Cowan, Gramophone
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