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Violinistic excellence in a debut album spanning several centuries of fantasy-themed music

I had heard Tessa Lark before and was never that impressed, but this changed my mind. Clarity and commitment define her performance of Telemann. The pristine rendering brings to mind Gil Shaham’s recent recordings of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas with its crystalline clarity. Lark is always clean and in tune (with a few minor exceptions such as the fifths in the slower section of Telemann’s first fantasy), and she always plays with a good sound. Her agility and litheness in quicker passages create brilliant effects. A welcome impishness surfaces in places like the spirited ending passages of Telemann’s first fantasy, and I like her artistic ornamentation. Dynamics are perfectly controlled, and her ability to completely switch colors and characters instantaneously is impressive. Anyone looking for solo violin Baroque music to listen to other than Bach would do well to start here. In the Schubert, the almost timid approach at the opening is appropriate, but like many other performers, Lark gets too loud too soon. There could be more piano in the introductory material, as the piano’s exciting trills and accompanimental figures are somewhat lost. Lark’s innocent nature surfaces in the way she approaches the theme in A minor, with a freshness and a sly twinkle. The performers bring out an optimism that does not always exist in the music, but it seems to suit the performers themselves. Yang is sublime to begin the A-flat major theme, with perfect swells, timing, and sound. Bravo! Later in her lengthy solos she brings out harmonies with conviction, and the style changes on her scales shows off remarkable virtuosity. The wind and waves ever present in Schubert’s music appear in her playing. Her high notes are worth listening to, and Yang’s sound particularly in the higher registers shimmers like light gleaming off icicles. The two infectiously spread enthusiasm and bubbly energy on the descending scales. It’s an approach that is more brilliant than triumphant and more playful than majestic. Lark follows with her own composition, a simple fiddle tune that grows more furious as it goes along. The Kreisler is infused with romance and fragrance. It is pure formula sometimes, the very best kind. It is never tawdry but rather inspires in a way that the best Strauss waltzes do. Indeed, a waltz is buried in the heart of this piece as in many of Kreisler’s works, pouring out his affinity for Vienna and his undying optimism. This is a dreamy, unabashed early Hollywood-era anthem for lovers. Lark can never match the charms of Kreisler, but her slides are welcome. The performers build a memorable atmosphere, and I loved the performance. The Ravel shows off the breadth and depth of Lark’s sound. She captures the indulgent spontaneity inherent in the gypsy style. Her droopy glissandos and maudlin slides are welcome, her virtuosic runs perfect. They both wholeheartedly commit to the brief romp before the coda section. For the first time, I was struck by the composition’s close affinity with later works by Copland, especially the first time D major takes over. The brashness in the accelerandos is exciting, and they capture the wild abandonment that is behind the music. Yang’s swirl leading into the coda is sublime. Lark chooses to begin the coda legato and gradually let the articulation shift as the tempo increases. If a little bit of scratchiness appears in her detache at the very end, it does not detract much from a fabulous performance. This program reveals the versatility of the performers. I deeply loved the Kreisler, the energy and sparkle of the Telemann pieces, the gypsy spirit of the Ravel, and the sound and style of Yang’s Schubert. This recording contains some of the best playing I have ever heard.

Ned Kellenberger, American Record Guide
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