love to hear music from the lesser-known byways of Classical
and Romantic chamber music. Aptly fitting the bill is this
second volume in what appears to be a continuing series of
Paganini’s chamber music. A quick check has revealed
that the first volume, which I have yet to hear, contains
the Trio Concertante in D major for viola, guitar
and cello; Cantabile
for violin and guitar and the Quartetto E major for
violin, viola, cello and guitar (Ambitus AMB
holds an esteemed status as possibly the world’s finest ever
virtuoso violinist but it is often forgotten that he also
played and studied the guitar. Swiss composer Franz von Wartensee,
an associate of Paganini, wrote in his memoirs, “Not everyone
knows that Paganini was a first-rate guitarist, since he
did not consider it worth the effort to present himself publicly
as such.” The Genoa-born Paganini in addition to composing
scores for the violin wrote a substantial amount for the
sources of information that I have available are rather vague
on the origins and dates of Paganini’s attraction to the
guitar. I understand that the main influence was his father Antonio
who was himself a mandolin
player. It is likely that from an early age Paganini would
have received instruction from him. Evidently from
around 1801, during the few years that Paganini lived with
a wealthy lady on
her country estate in Tuscany, his energies were principally
channelled into guitar study and composition.
to the Ambitus annotation this recording includes the first
and the last of the fifteen quartets that Paganini wrote
for violin, viola, cello and guitar.
The first work, the Quartet in A minor, Op. 4,
No. 1, was one of the few that Paganini had published and
is one of the six Guitar Quartets that appeared as his Opp.
4 and 5. Thought to have been composed around 1813-15 the
A minor Quartet is cast in three movements and bears the
dedication, “To sister Nicoletta”.
The central work on this release is the four movement Trio
in D major for guitar, violin and cello which we are
told was composed in 1833 during Paganini’s visit to London.
The concluding work is the Quartet No. 15 in A minor which
it seems was his fifteenth and final work for guitar quartet.
This was composed around 1838, is cast in five movements
and is especially distinctive as the viola takes the leading
part in place of the violin. It is said that Paganini was
inspired to compose the score at a time when his treasured
violin, a 1742 Guarneri del Gesù, had been badly damaged
and he had developed a great interest in the viola.
The Offenburger Trio take their name from the city of
Offenburg in Germany which is the home town of the trio members
and where they were founded in 1981. The brothers Frank and
Rolf Schilli and Martin Merker are augmented by the services
of renowned guitarist Siegbert Remberger.
I find these Paganini scores full of surprises both
in terms of layout, choice of instrumentation and musical
content. It is fascinating how sometimes Paganini’s writing
will display a certain vulgarity and the next minute one
is enchanted by his charm and warmth. It is often difficult
to forecast what Paganini will do next in these scores and
this unpredictability is a characteristic that can be highly
In the hands of these artists these works burst with
colour and energy. I especially enjoyed the Offenburger’s
interpretation of the Quartet No. 15 which is easily
the finest of the three scores. The players in the opening maestoso display
the buoyancy and swaying character of the stop-start nature
of the movement with its Mozartian main theme. In the second
movement I appreciated the ensemble’s playful cavorting in
the minuet followed at 01:41 by a superbly performed
solo part for guitar in the trio section. An agitated
matador-like stand-off in the recitativo is highly
appealing and in the adagio cantabile the viola of
Rolf Schilli sings a tender song with rapt confidence. The
Offenburgers convincingly bustle and gallop their way through
the concluding movement rondo that contains a cheerful
and memorable theme.
The recorded sound is of high quality and I was delighted
with the clarity and balance. The booklet notes are interesting
and reasonable informative, and the front cover has a quite
spectacular painting of Paganini which adds to the appeal
of the release.
Although I am not especially familiar with the recordings,
for those wishing to explore this repertoire further there
is a five disc collection of the complete Paganini Guitar
Quartets from the Paganini Quartet on Dynamic DYN 159/1-5.
These rarely encountered scores on this well presented
Ambitus release are certainly worthy of attention.