couple of months ago I had the good fortune to review the second
volume in this Ambitus series of Paganini’s chamber works including
the guitar (see review). Now the German label has provided
the first volume recorded back in 1998.
I love to explore the by-ways of an established composer’s output;
especially in the field of chamber music. In addition
to having held esteemed status as possibly the world’s
finest ever virtuoso violinist it is often forgotten that
Paganini 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.”
well as composing scores for the violin Paganini wrote a very
substantial body of guitar compositions. A quick check on the ‘New
Grove Online’ reveals that he wrote over three hundred scores,
a majority of which feature the guitar as solo instrument or
include a guitar part. Of the five opus numbers published during
his lifetime only the Op. 1 set of 24 Caprices for Solo
Violin did not include the guitar.
available sources are rather vague on the origins and dates
of Paganini’s attraction to the guitar.
I understand however that his main influence was his father Antonio
who was himself a mandolin player. It is likely that
from an early age the young 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.
The Offenburger String Trio takes their name from the city
of Offenburg in Germany which is the trio’s home town where
it was founded in 1981. In this case the brothers Frank and
and Martin Merker are augmented by the services of renowned
guitarist Siegbert Remberger.
My opinion has not changed from that expressed
in my review of volume 2: these Paganini scores are full
of surprises both in terms of layout, employment of instrumentation
and musical content. I was fascinated how sometimes Paganini’s
writing displays a certain vulgarity and the next minute
I could be enchanted by his charm and warmth. I often found
it difficult to forecast what Paganini would do next and
this unpredictability is highly appealing.
In the Trio Concertante I was struck by how violist Rolf Schilli
and cellist Martin Merker play predominantly in overlapping
sections of their ranges. In the attractive first movement Allegro,
employing a moderate tempo, the viola and cello dominate
the proceedings at 1:57-2:15 and 2:16-2:33 with the guitar
providing accompaniment. There are several episodes featuring
the guitar most notably at 2:39-3:24. The return of the main
theme on the viola and cello at 6:47-7.02 which is repeated
at 7:03-7:19 is especially enchanting. The complex and vivacious
interplay at 7.20-7:50 heralds the conclusion of the movement.
In the carefree and expertly performed Minuetto, Allegro
vivo con trio the guitar is liberated, dominating the
opening with a motif repeated eight times between 0:17-1:24.
First the viola and then the cello at 1:25-2-56 and 2:58-3:29
make a significant contribution. The return of the guitar
from 3:53-4:33 closes the movement in very much the same
way that it opened. The intimate and haunting main theme
of the Adagio, Cantabile is lovingly performed, initially
by the viola from 0.00-0:28 followed by the cello at 0:29-1:00.
In the sunny and enchanting closing movement Valtz a Rondo,
Allegro con energia con trio all three instruments take
their turn to display the dance-like qualities of the music.
I found the extensive and extrovert viola part especially
rich while the cello is performing in its lower range. The
guitar part at 3:54-5:21 is magnificently done. The score
closing with considerable energy and high drama left me exhausted.
The Cantabile for violin and guitar was composed around 1822-24
and is one of many such miniature scores that gained Paganini
astonishing audience popularity. Schilli and Remberger perform
this sunny and highly attractive short work with great affection.
The final work is the Quartet No. 7. I was immediately struck
by the expertly crafted mercurial changes of tempo and mood.
In the opening lyrical Allegro moderato movement the
players communicate genuine enthusiasm and passionListen,
for example, to the viola-led section at 4:19-4:59 reminiscent
of a bel canto aria from an opera. At 5:35-6:10 the
high degree of difficulty of the writing is evident presenting
the players with a stern examination that they pass with
flying colours. The quartet impresses in Paganini’s wide
variety of nuance and colour in the joyous and imaginative Minuetto,
Allegretto movement, dominated by extended pizzicato episodes
at 0:00-0:55; 2:02-2:30; 4:16-4:43 and 5:40-6:08. The guitar
takes centre-stage at 4:43-5:40 with a glorious solo part
accompanied by fluent accompaniment from the string trio.
With the Adagio cantabile sostenuto con passione Paganini
takes the listener into more serious territory with writing
of a more intimate quality that predominantly emphasises
the middle to higher registers of Schilli’s violin. Here
the quartet perform with spirit and considerable lyrical
fluency. In the concluding movement Rondo, Vivace, again
accentuating the upper range of the violin, the players are
in an ebullient mood providing a performance that is long
on vivacity and commitment.
I was impressed with the fresh, immediate and well balanced recorded
sound from the Ambitus engineers, that contains just a hint
of sharpness in the forte passages. The booklet notes
are interesting and reasonably informative, but left me wanting
to know more about these scores. The front cover has an attractive
photograph of what seems to be Genoa, Paganini’s birthplace.
The second volume contains the first and the last of the fifteen Quartets
that Paganini wrote for the combination of violin, viola,
cello and guitar, together with a Trio in D major for guitar,
violin and cello that were recorded in 2001, in Schüttbau,
Rügheimon on Ambitus AMB 96 899.
I am not familiar with the set but there are more of Paganini’s chamber
scores on a five disc collection of the complete Guitar Quartets
from the Paganini Quartet on Dynamic DYN 159/1-5. For those
wishing to further explore chamber repertoire with guitar
there is an excellent recording of Boccherini’s six Guitar
Quintets, G 445-450 performed by the Dimov String Quartet
and guitarist Jean-Pierre Jumez on Capriccio 49472 (Quintets
1-3) and 49473 (Quintets 4-6). I have the recordings as part
of a 10 disc box set on Capriccio 49436.
There are hidden gems to be unearthed in these Paganini chamber scores.
The Offenburgers and Remberger perform these rewarding and
appealing works with impressive vitality and remarkable expression.
This is a recording to cherish.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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