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Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, MS 48, La Campanella (1826) [29:19]
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor, MS 60 (1829-30) [30:42]
Michael Jelden (violin)
Vogtland-Philharmonie, Greiz-Reichenbach/Stefan Fraas
rec. Neuberinhaus Reichenbach/Vogtland, January 2004
EDITION HERA HERA02115 [60:02]
Experience Classicsonline

The novelty here - the gimmick, if you prefer - is a different Adagio in the B minor concerto. According to soloist Michael Jelden's program note, Paganini's manuscript of the solo part includes both the standard Adagio and a two-line, solo-and-bass version of this one - in other words, it's not orchestrated, or even filled out texturally. Jelden has done so, "strictly following Paganini's annotations in the solo part, in Paganini's style." He correctly notes that "[t]he character of the piece is very different from the rest of the concerto," but it's certainly pleasant enough. Once past a brief introduction incorporating surprise-symphony effects, the five-and-a-half minute movement consists mostly of a long, broad cantilena for the soloist over a pizzicato-based accompaniment, with brief turbulent outbursts offering contrasts.
The gimmick, however, wasn't necessary. Jelden, who apparently divides his concertizing between virtuoso concerti and modern works, does a fine job with the solo parts here. His principal asset is a full, firm-bowed sounding of every note, no matter how brief in duration -- it struck me as a sort of violinistic counterpart to Bernard Haitink's conducting -- which ensures that the melodies really sing expressively. This particularly tells in the central Adagios: that of the B minor is, for all its simplicity, almost operatically expansive, while the second theme of the D minor's Adagio flebile e con sentimento has a lovely searching quality. Jelden also infuses the 6/8 rhythms in each concerto's final Rondo with a nice swing and lilt -- these movements aren't just about the technical fireworks.
On the down side, within Jelden's generally accomplished technique, rapid passages in sixths -- whether arpeggiated or double-stopped -- prove to be stumbling blocks, in terms of both tone and intonation. The sequential phrase at 5:43 in the B minor's first movement, for example, never quite makes it up to pitch; nor does some of the following cadence. But the similar, lower-lying passagework at 10:47 is spot-on. And in vaulting upward leaps and other such bits of target practice, his aim is precise.
I have to admit that the provincial-sounding compound name of the orchestra didn't inspire my confidence - indeed, the 65-member "Vogtland-Philharmonie" turns out to be an amalgamation of two previously separate, presumably smaller, orchestras in Greiz and Reichenbach. But I needn't have worried: the playing is adept and polished. I particularly enjoyed the full-throated ritornellos, with big, round brass interjections interrupting that of the D minor. The violins might be relatively understaffed -- here and there in tutti, they can't always hold their own against the brasses' harmonies -- but they're unfailingly well-blended, clear and in tune. The exposed, unaccompanied phrases that open the D minor are true, with only the highest notes turning a touch glassy.
The engineering is excellent, but the proofreading department fell down on the job: Paganini's first name is misspelled throughout -- one "c" for two, and an acute accent for a grave -- and the English grammar and syntax in Jelden's translation of his own note could have used editorial intervention.
Stephen Francis Vasta


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