Akiko Suwanai, the youngest winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition, is a stunning virtuoso with a sensitive musical heart. Her tone is gorgeous: radiant on the high strings, dark and warm on the low ones, pure at all times. Her technique is brilliant, her intonation flawless. She executes the most hair-raising violinistic feats--runs at top speed, double and triple stops, harmonics--with effortless ease and a beautiful sound. Her program here seems to be arranged backward, with the dessert preceding the main course, perhaps to show that you need enough technique for bravura pieces to do justice to real music.
Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" and "Carmen Fantasy" are played with virtuosic flair and idiomatic feeling. The former's gypsy abandon and melancholy sometimes verge on sentimentality, but the latter's passion, fire, and seductive charm almost make it sound like music. Dvorák's "Mazurek" provides the link between the two composers: it is dedicated to Sarasate. It, too, is basically a virtuoso piece, but a lovely, pensive melody intermittently relieves the fireworks. In the Concerto, the first movement is most convincing. The treacherous opening is not only technically perfect, but highly dramatic and rhetorical; the rhythm is rock-steady, yet flexible, and Suwanai brings out its ardent romanticism with great warmth and inward expressiveness. The other two movements feel driven, as if time were running out. The slow one is restless, the Finale downright hectic, though she tries to make the most of the lyrical moments. The orchestra supports her splendidly throughout. The booklet contains much information about the music, but not a word about the violinist. --Edith Eisler