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Lark's "Fantasy": Classical gems, Kentucky flair, and phenomenal talent

Young Kentucky-born violinist Tessa Lark treads a well-worn path with the title of her debut recording, Fantasy. However, her choice of repertoire here is far from predictable, with three of Telemann’s Fantasies, and her own Appalachian Fantasy nestling amongst the more familiar Schubert Fantasie and Ravel’s Tzigane. Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was an incredibly prolific composer, and yet his work is still surprisingly often overlooked. The twelve Fantasies for solo violin are gems, and whilst clearly showing influences of Bach and Corelli, they have their own distinctive voice, and Lark gives us three of them here. The dark Grave of the first contrasts with its dancing Allegro sections, and the fourth has great energy in its outer sections. The fifth is perhaps the showiest of Lark’s selection here, but it too has a brief moment of calm in its brief Andante before the final dashing Allegro. In all of these, Lark’s tone is bright and full of life, and she brings out the challenging counterpoint and frequent double-stoppings with poise and ease. Schubert’s Fantasie for Violin and Piano is an extended single movement (at around 25 minutes in all), although it does have a number of distinct sections, and Schubert draws on one of his own songs, Sei mir gegrüsst for the basis of four variations that form the bulk of the piece, following a beautifully singing opening and a playful allegretto, with violin and piano in canon. Lark and Amy Yang (piano) enjoy the playfulness here, and both instruments have a lot to show off about in the challenging variations. Apart from wanting a tad more richness of tone in the opening, there is little to fault here, and this is definitely a performance of equals, with Yang relishing the rich textures of Schubert’s writing for the piano. Lark then follows the Schubert with a real treat – her own composition, Appalachian Fantasy, highlighting another side to her musical heritage as a traditional fiddler. With her violin retuned to produce the traditional open string double-stopping drones, she draws on the melody from the Schubert, as well as bringing in traditional Appalachian tunes, such as Cumberland Gap and Bonaparte’s Retreat, in a fabulously infectious demonstration of her phenomenal talent here. Fritz Kreisler’s (1875-1962) Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasietta, despite the mouthful of a title, is a typically delightful Kreisler encore concoction, harking back to the heyday of the Viennese waltz, and Lark and Yang give this warmth and a sense of sweet nostalgia. Ravel’s Tzigane is a bravura showpiece for violin, although again, the piano part is not to be sniffed at, and Yang rises to its challenges well. Lark throws off the virtuosic gypsy flourishes with appropriate abandon, making this a lively and exuberant finish to the disc. All in all, this is a highly impressive calling card, amply demonstrating the range of Lark’s talents.

Nick Boston, Classical Notes
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