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Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin concerto no.1 in D major, op.6 (1817) [40:14]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Introduction and rondo capriccioso, op.28 (1863) [10:05]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Meditation from Thaïs (1894) [5:58]
Mariusz Patyra (violin)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Johannes Wildner
rec. S2 Studio, Polish Radio, Warsaw, Poland, May 2004
DUX 0654 [56:18]
Experience Classicsonline

In 2001 Mariusz Patyra won the prestigious international Paganini Competition for violinists held in the eponymous composer’s Genoa birthplace.  Given that past winners have included such well-known – and frequently recorded - soloists as Salvatore Accardo (1958), Jean-Jacques Kantorow (1964),  Gidon Kremer (1969), Ilya Kaler (1981), Leonidas Kavakos (1988) and Ilya Gringolts (1998), we ought clearly to expect a great deal from him in this repertoire.
On the evidence of this new CD, the technical challenges of Paganini’s exceptionally taxing score, which allegedly left some of his contemporaries so amazed that they accused its composer/performer of forging a pact with Satan, certainly hold no terrors for Patyra.  He sails right through them with apparent nonchalance – but, at the same time, he invests his playing with intensity and real heart.  This is by no means a grandstanding account of the concerto but rather one of those rare traversals that combines both breathtaking virtuosity and real and intelligent musicality.
After a slightly portentous account of the opening bars, Wildner and the Warsaw players turn in a sprightly, well-balanced account of the orchestral introduction before Patyra enters compellingly and confidently at 3:08.  Paganini himself would no doubt have approved of the fact that the soloist is placed well-forward here, although the orchestral contribution still comes through effectively, if in a rather generalised way, in the radio studio’s very natural acoustic. 
Dux’s engineers have captured the violin with exceptional realism.  Patyra’s tone is sweet in his instrument’s higher registers and beautifully warm and mellow in the lower ones.  He adopts a purposeful and generally flowing tempo throughout the first movement, though slowing quite markedly for one or two of the more lyrical passages.  It is, moreover, apparent that he possesses a full and very impressive battery of technical skills and, as one would expect, they are on particular display in the pyrotechnics of the long cadenza: Patyra need fear comparison with no-one here; how one would have loved to hear Heifetz in this concerto – but sadly he never recorded it!  
As in virtually all accounts, the second and third movements – far less substantial and clocking in here at just 5:16 and 10:25, as opposed to the opening movement’s 24:33 - are something of an anticlimax.  Nevertheless, Patyra maintains his exceptional standards.  The Adagio is notably lyrical and, once again, flowing but also incorporates some strikingly passionate climaxes (at, for example, 2:16).  The subsequent finale is light-footed and witty, skipping along nicely as Patyra shows off his secure technique, while Wildner is again an attentive and sensitive accompanist whenever the score offers the orchestra scope to do more than mark time and rum-ti-tum along.
The soloist is again placed well to the fore in the Saint-Saëns, but that is certainly no drawback when the performance is as idiomatic and atmospheric as this one, combining rich lyricism with more than the merely requisite degree of virtuosity.  The well-known Meditation from Massenet’s little-known opera Thaïs showcases Patyra’s sweet tone as he plays with the greatest sensitivity and, just as in the Paganini slow movement, with an innately musical sense of where to inject the passion. 
This is, then, clearly a very fine disc and I have been delighted to add it to my collection.  It doesn’t, however, displace my preferred modern version by Salvatore Accardo – not the usually-recommended Deutsche Grammophon recording where he is supported by Charles Dutoit and the London Philharmonic Orchestra but, rather, the frequently overlooked version in which Accardo was both soloist and conductor of  the tremendously enthusiastic and authentic-sounding Orchestra da Camera Italiana (EMI Classics 5 57151 2).   Lovers of the concerto will also need no persuasion to turn to the classic – and intensely involving - recording set down by the young Yehudi Menuhin in 1934 with the Orchestre Symphonique de Paris under Pierre Monteux (EMI Classics Références 5 65959 2).
My one reservation is with the short measure offered.  I fail to see any excuse these days for discs that clock in at under, say, 60 minutes and the producers could surely have encouraged Patyra to delight us with another lollipop or two. 
In the early 1930s, Universal Pictures used to head their movies’ final cast lists with the words: A good cast is worth repeating.  As many composers have realised, that premise can easily be modified into: A good tune is worth repeating.  The Paganini concerto is especially full of attractive and memorable melodies: is it too much to hope that one day a soloist will couple it with two of its several fascinating spin-offs?  I calculate that you could just about fit not only the concerto itself (about 40:00) but also its inventive adaptations by both August Wilhelmj (roughly 20:00) and Fritz Kreisler (about 18:00) onto a single disc.  Now that would be really fascinating!
Rob Maynard


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