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Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Caprices for solo violin (24) Op 1 (c1819?) [28.10]
Michael Rabin, violin
Recorded Capitol Records Studios, New York, New York, USA, 8 September 1958
Notes in Deutsch, English, Français. Performer photo and biography.
8 pages illustrated listing of the GROC series.
Great Recordings of the Century series
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5 67986 2 5 [72.07]

 

The included biography of Michael Rabin paints a picture of a troubled virtuoso who met a tragic early end. Paganini himself has been variously described as a neurotic, ill, and troubled man, so perhaps there is a logic in this pairing of music and performer. Rabin certainly has all the notes and plays them dead on pitch and dead on time with stunning assuranceónay, jaw dropping virtuosityóbut whether there is any music here remains open to question. Personally I prefer Ruggiero Ricciís performance on Decca even though it is demonstrably less perfect technically. It is a fact that Paganiniís live performances overwhelmed so many great musicians of the nineteenth century, most notably Liszt, but also including DvořŠk ó listen to his first symphony and Paganiniís 23rd caprice.

But if this is really great music, why donít pianists play arrangements of it on the keyboard, which would be relatively easy for them to do? Separated from the difficulty of performance does the music simply disappear? Or is it that the performerís enormous struggle and grateful victory lend an inappropriate context to what are at heart simple tunes and dances? The pianists who have transcribed this music concentrate on only one or two of the works, and then go on to produce an extremely elaborate composition which is in itself a comment on keyboard virtuosity, more a reply to Paganiniís challenge than a tribute to any outpouring of his lyrical soul.

Charles Rosen has commented brilliantly on the athletic aspect of music, where the performer feels the music without necessarily hearing it, where the motions of playing become almost a dance experience apart from the sound produced. Jeffrey Tate has commented that many performers do not hear their performances, but learn them and remember them by how they feel while performing (and hence canít change them even slightly without completely relearning them). Which is to say that virtuosity without musical soul is no less valid a human experience, but perhaps not at heart a truly musical one.

Violin students will want this disk as a document of what is possible on the violin, and certainly a good hint as to how the master himself must have sounded when playing.

Paul Shoemaker

Tony Haywood has a quite different view of this disc

 



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