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Niccolò PAGANINI (1782–1840)
Twenty-Four Caprices op. 1 (arr. for saxophone)
Raaf Hekkema (alto saxophone; soprano saxophone)
rec. 27–31 August 2005, Hervormde Kerk, Mijnsheerenland, The Netherlands



Let me say from the outset that not for a very long time have I been so captivated by a disc. Paganini’s caprices, the pinnacle and ultimate challenge for even the best endowed violinists played on saxophones! Is it a joke? Not a bit of it. This is serious, honest music-making that has you sitting flabbergasted. I would think that even a sober Charlie Parker would have stumbled before reaching the finishing tape – but not Raaf Hekkema.

Of course he hasn’t been able to play the music exactly as written. It had to be arranged, adapted, sometimes transposed to be within the range of the instruments, but that is not important. What counts is the result and it is – fabulous! “When does he breathe?” is a recurring question, but that is actually a wind musician’s feature: circular breathing. What is so impressive is his constantly beautiful tone and the smooth delivery. The evenness of the sound is also impressive, as is his fingering method in the fastest passages. The longest of the caprices, No. 4, is actually a sample of different techniques. The double-stops that are frequently found in Paganini’s original are executed by playing one “string” on the saxophone while singing the other “string”. This also forces him to transpose to keys that are within his voice range. He even manages to transfer the violinist’s plucked strings to the saxophone. The alto saxophone is the most commonly used instrument (14 out of 24 tracks) but the change of instruments also contributes to the variety. I played No. 24, the one with the famous tune that everybody has written variations on, to a music listening group and they were really taken aback. Is this some kind of recording trick, somebody asked. It is sometimes hard to believe that it isn’t.

Browsing through the notes I made while listening to the disc during a train journey to Stockholm, I find very little variation of vocabulary: beautiful, impressive, stunning and a fair sprinkling of exclamation marks. With excellent sound, splendid notes on the creative process and on the individual caprices by Raaf Hekkema himself and the longest playing time I have so far encountered on a CD, this is a high quality product. I can’t believe that anyone will be disappointed when hearing this – unless jealousy is a hampering factor.

We are not even halfway through the year 2006 but I am already convinced that this is going to be one of my Recordings of the Year in December.

Göran Forsling






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