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Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Complete Violin Concertos
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor (1829/30) [31.49]

Allegro maestoso [16.39]
Adagio flessibile con sentimento [4.41]
Rondo galante: Andantino gaio [10.29]
Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major Op. 6 (1817) [34.51]

Allegro maestoso [19.59]
Adagio espressivo [5.13]
Rondo: Allegro spirituoso [9.39]
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor [47.55]

Allegro maestoso [18.55]
Andante un poco sostenuto [8.35]
Rondo [10.25]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor Op. 7 (1826) [31.03]

Allegro maestoso [15.24]
Adagio [6.57]
Rondo à la clochette [8.42]
Violin Concerto No. 3 in E major (c. 1826) [36.45]

Introduzione. Andantino - Allegro marziale [17.31]
Adagio. Cantabile spianato [7.10]
Polacca. Andantino vivace [12.04]
Violin Concerto No. 6 in E minor Op. posth. [39.05]

Risoluto [20.38]
Adagio [6.57]
Rondò ossia Polonese [11.30]
Alexandre Dubach (violin)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo
Michel Sasson/Lawrence Foster (conductors)
rec at the Opera or Congress Hall, Monte Carlo between December 1991and November 1994
CLAVES CD 50 - 9800/3 3cds [214.17]

This is almost a case of once you have heard one you have heard them all, for there’s a pretty predictable formulaic structure to the concertos, six of eight having survived. The orchestra generally sets out its stall at the start of the first movements (always the longest of the three in each concerto) after which it adopts a fairly dull role, leaving the soloist to his pyrotechnics. Given that Paganini was supposed to be the Devil incarnate with fiddle in hand, the demands are clearly going to be, and are, formidable. It’s not quite a matter of course to listen to them in numerical order, as No.6 was probably the first to be written, and only the solo part has survived, so in this case, and that of the fifth concerto, Federico Mompellio orchestrated them in 1959 and 1972 respectively. In all the concertos Alexandre Dubach, not a name which is as familiar as his ability revealed here would pre-suppose, provides his own cadenzas.

Paganini’s style is almost Rossinian, indeed after the orchestra’s laying out of the material in No.1 (including the obligatory participation of the cymbal and the single trombone), one expects a soprano or tenor to join the fray. All the 19th century virtuosic traits make their appearances, such as double stops (cd 50-9204 Track 6: 02’.00"), left hand pizzicato (cd 50-9408 Track 6: 06’20"), spiccato or ricochet bowing, and flights up to the dizzy heights and down to the open G string at mega-speeds. Indeed it is a showcase for a violin school comparable to that created by his German contemporary Spohr. Paganini’s tongue is firmly in his cheek at the two-note answers to the solo violin by the trumpet, then the trombone in the finale to this first concerto (cd 50-9204 Track 6: 06’.00" and 06’.20"), whose main theme incidentally sounds as if he had just heard Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, written ten years earlier. Generally the slow movements hardly exploit the lyrical warmth of the instrument in the way that the Germans Mendelssohn, Bruch and Brahms came to do, but the most exciting fireworks are reserved for the finales, with examples of Eastern European dance such as Polkas to add exoticism to the irresistible mix. Indeed the soloist could have been either an opera singer or ballet dancer if not a violinist in these works, which point the way to Sarasate and Wieniawski later in the century.

The third concerto (cd 50-9503, tracks 1-3) was only rediscovered in 1971, and is curious in that each movement begins with the orchestra’s strings playing pizzicato. But of the six concertos, the most familiar to listeners will be the finale to No.2 (cd 50-9408 Track 6), the so-called ‘La Campanella’, which became a real hit in Paganini’s day and immediately re-appeared in transcriptions as galops, waltzes and fantasies for piano, Liszt’s the most famous and successful. This finale encapsulates all of the effects and singular style of its effervescent bravura and Alexandre Dubach is more than a match for the demands, while the orchestra supports dutifully, there’s not much more they can do. The only thing missing after each concerto’s finale is the roar of applause from an adoring audience, for that’s what Paganini would have been expecting.

Christopher Fifield

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