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Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Twenty-Four Caprices Op. 1
Tedi Papavrami (violin)
Recorded at the Théâtre des Quatre Saisons de Gradignan, 1997
PAN CLASSICS PC510 153 [77.49]


Throw your hat in the Paganinian ring and you’ll find it pretty crowded. When it comes to the Op.1 Caprices there are some immovable objects. Ricci (1959 but the earlier mono set is visceral and driven), Accardo – of course – and Perlman are just three of the most prominent. Even so performances on disc aren’t commonplace even in these days of armour-plated virtuosi so it’s always interesting to listen to another approach.

Tedi Papavrami is an Albanian-born, prize-winning fiddle player who now lives in France. He numbers Francescatti amongst those who have guided him and has a busy solo career performing extensively with like minded musicians and at festivals – names such as Starker, Gary Hoffman, Collard, Rampal and Amoyal show the kind of fast company he keeps. He’s also the preferred translator of the Albanian writer Ismaïl Kadaré.

These are of course amongst the finger busting peaks of the nineteenth century literature – indeed of any violin literature – and require cast iron technique allied to theatrical flair and commensurate lyricism in the slower Caprices to give a full picture of them. Papavrami has made some well-regarded recordings for Naxos and Harmonia Mundi amongst others (Prokofiev Concertos, Sarasate, Peci and more Paganini) and he’s clearly a musician of perception and command. He doesn’t evince the ricochet drama of Ricci in the first, or Perlman’s crystalline accuracy but he shapes very musically – though this octave study should be taken at speed to avoid the crippling damage to intonation or the perception at least that the violinist is out of tune. Throughout he takes that bit extra time to phrase, and he takes the repeats as well, being tonally more appropriate than Ricci in the third, though sometimes this comes at a cost – in the folk-like Seventh for instance Perlman and Ricci sustain the melody line better at a more emphatically forward moving tempo. He is certainly a very precise and neat player – none of Ricci’s roughening up is allowed in Papavrami’s Paganini (see the Eighth) and his elegance is put to fine use in the Ninth, where the corollary is a smoothing over of contrasts. His rhythm is subtle – rubati are of the "heard but not seen" variety – and accents are well judged, tone centred, characterisation good. I did feel he didn’t take enough chances but perhaps that is to judge him against an iconoclast like Ricci and ultimately unfair – though I do think Ricci’s febrile unpredictability did things with say the Sixteenth that the younger player couldn’t countenance. That said I did admire the burnished bugle introduction to the Eighteenth – it’s saucy and less military than it can be and works well, and in the Nineteenth he does, unusually, smear his tone to good effect; the drone of the Twentieth is well sustained.

The acoustic of the Théâtre des Quatre Saisons de Gradignan is rather resonant which can slightly blunt the attacks – it’s certainly not ideal for this kind of music but I’ve heard a lot, lot worse. The recording was made in 1997. Of course Papavrami doesn’t possess Ricci’s devilry, that hoarse, risk-taking, tone-smudging, vibrant-sounding elixir, that magnetic combustion; nor does he have Accardo’s breadth of nobility or Perlman’s scintillating, effortless-sounding command. These, in their very different ways, are the front runners. Also you might usefully acquaint yourself with the recently released ‘Perlman Rediscovered’ disc from BMG with three Caprices from his first, previously unissued sessions.

Jonathan Woolf

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