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Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840).
I palpiti - Introduction and Variations on " Di tanti Palpiti" MS 77 Op. 13 (1819) [11.42]
Le Streghe, MS 19 Op. 8 (1813) [10.21]
Cantabile, MS109 Op. 17 [4.09]
Six Sonatas, MS 27 Op. 3 - No. 6 in E minor [4.06]
The Caprices, MS 25 Op. 1 (1801-07): No. 1 in E [1.53]; No. 2 in B minor [4.17]; No. 5 in A minor [2.54]; No. 9 in E [2.43]; No. 13 in B flat [2.42]; No. 14 in E flat [2.01];
Moto perpetuo, MS 72 Op. 11 [4.21]
David N. BAKER (b.1931)

Ethnic Variations on a Theme of Paganini (1982) [11.07]
Pavel Sporcl (violin)
Petr Jiríkovský (piano)
Recorded at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, June and July 2004

Includes a video for Windows PCs (Real Player), directed by Juraj Herz
SUPRAPHON SU 3772-2 [63.01]


Pavel Šporcl has developed something of a reputation as a Czech Nigel Kennedy. Partly this is sartorial – stubble, bandana, garish promotional material – and partly repertorial in that he has a wide-ranging interest in music, including jazz. There are other similarities; both trained at home, Šporcl with the distinguished Václav Snítil, and then in America with Dorothy DeLay. Šporcl has done some outstanding work in introducing music to children in an intelligible and exciting way. He has also honoured standard repertoire and many will know him from his performances of the Dvořák concerto. To that extent he is in the long line of Czech violinists, of whom his teacher is a notable example, but in his espousing of the finger-busting Paganinian repertoire he also recalls one of the elite of his kind, Vaša Příhoda, whose mastery of the national repertoire was exceeded in reputation only by his standing as a Paganini exponent.

Both players of course are very different. Šporcl rather lacks the older player’s outsize gestures and coruscating incision; he’s a softer-grained kind of violinist though his tone is penetratingly pure and focused and not at all fulsome. A rather unexpected element of the programme is that he plays a selection of the Caprices in the Schumann piano arrangements. These have long been ditched in the post-Ricci, post-Rabin days of Paganini playing on disc so it’s a jolt to encounter them again. The Second could perhaps do with a greater sense of projection and might have been thrown off with more panache, though maybe if he weren’t shackled to the accompaniment he would have done so. In the Fifth we can hear his concentrated tone, precise, well equalized. His lyric side comes out in the little E minor Sonata though I feel it’s just a touch brittle in places. Le Streghe is a famous test piece that he doesn’t quite meet head on; there are static moments that don’t convince but I warmed to his playing of the Cantabile in D where he shows some excellent work on the lower strings.

I Palpiti is again warmly phrased after a fine piano introduction from Petr Jiríkovský. Šporcl’s rhythm is fine, he employs plenty of tone colouration and there’s abundant virtuosity; a good performance all round. The only piece of non-Paganini is David N Baker’s Ethnic Variations on a Theme of Paganini. It was written in 1983 and here receives its premiere recording. Based on the famous 24th Caprice and lasting eleven minutes this is a jazz-based workout that offers a pleasing diversion from the serious business of keeping ones head above the virtuosic waters.

The recording quality is warm but not enveloping, whilst the notes are keenly up to date in the best Šporcl tradition. There’s some really committed playing here, along with some more fallible moments and the Schumann editions add another layer of unpredictability to the affair.

Jonathan Woolf


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