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Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
24 Caprices Op. 1
Sonig Tchakerian (violin)
Recorded Oratorio San Bovo, Padova, December 2002
ARTS 47693-2 [79.38]


Recordings of the 24 Caprices aren’t commonplace, even in these days of digitally advanced virtuosi. Renardy and Ricci were the pioneers of this repertoire on disc and Rabin, Erlih, Accardo and Perlman have assumed the mantle since. Sonig Tchakerian is an Armenian-born Italian citizen who pursued advanced studies with Accardo and Gulli, two masters of the modern Italian School, and with Nathan Milstein in Zurich. She has performed the Caprices in concert on a number of occasions and has recorded a substantial amount of the trio repertoire with the Trio Italiano of which she was a member.

The challenges of course are wincingly hard. Moreover this is an Audiophile recording, using the much-touted 24-bit/96 kHz range and which, while promising clarity and "unrivalled ambience" can sound very forward, unrelieved and not especially sympathetic to Tchakerian’s tone (and do we really need to know the name of the manufacturers of the microphone cables?) All this means that her tone sounds rather scrappy and rough in No. 1 and gives one the distinct impression of compromised intonation. In No. 3 she is slower than, say, Ricci in his 1950s recording (she is almost invariably slower) but shows better tonal judgement than he did. Fine though she often plays there are places where she doesn’t cultivate enough colour (No. 4) and lacks the necessary theatrical panache (No. 5) in some of the maestoso sections. In the Allegretto of No. 9 she doesn’t really characterise the passages tightly enough and there’s perhaps a lack of incision in No. 10, where Ricci’s devilry wins out. But she is elegant – if a trifle over emphatic – in No. 13 and despatches the trumpet effects of No. 18 with understanding, and takes a nice, flowing tempo in No. 20, though in so doing she does downplay the drone effect. Debits are the effortful registral leaps in the wicked E minor (No. 15) and the spartan "dialogue" in No. 23 – where things should be a lot more active.

The notes are rather florid. Tchakerian’s is a thoughtful and musical account of the Caprices. Allegiances though will not shift; Perlman is a superb contemporary account, with Ricci for explosive backup.

Jonathan Woolf


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