Niccolò PAGANINI (1782–1840) Twenty-Four Caprices Op. 1 (c.1805) (arranged for viola
by Emanuel Vardi) [76:51]
Emanuel Vardi (viola)
rec. ca 1965 CEMBAL D’AMOUR CD129 [76:51]
These epoch-making performances were originally issued
on Epic SC 6049 in 1965. They were recorded by violist extraordinaire
Emanuel Vardi who performs his own arrangements of the Paganini
Caprices playing one fifth lower than the original key. He
remains, as Cembal d’amour reminds us, the only violist to
have set down all twenty-four and an additional symmetry
resides in the fact that Vardi was inspired to take up the
viola after hearing William Primrose’s own viola performance
of two Paganini caprices, recordings that the Scotsman made
for Columbia in 1934.
After listening to Primrose play a couple of Caprices for
him, Mischa Elman sat thoughtfully for a while then pronounced; “Must
be easier on the viola.” Well, one wonders what he would
have said to Vardi who plays all twenty-four; possibly he’d
have been so astounded that he’d have said nothing at all.
This feat of prodigious virtuosity and astonishing pluck – allied
to a violist’s indomitable will – is one that set the standard
for violists. In this respect he followed his eminent predecessors
Tertis and Primrose who both strove for greater renown and
respect for their instrument through commissions and transcriptions.
Primrose’s was the exemplar in Paganini; Vardi took things
to their logical if perhaps extreme conclusion.
Vardi had played all twenty-four caprices on the violin and
had publicly played a number as a violist. But he’d avoided
others, such as 1, 4 and 6 fearing them too demanding. It
was George Ricci, Ruggiero’s cello playing brother, who encouraged
Vardi to record the complete set. Clearly George shared his
brother’s dare-devilry when it came to the repertoire. Thus
the recordings were made in Vardi’s studio in his home in
New Jersey. He says the tape was leased to Epic and released
in the early sixties. Maybe they were recorded in the early
sixties then; I’m pretty sure they were actually released
in 1965. In any event in his notes Vardi’s happy to put some
myths to rest. Yes, he did use his 17-inch Dodd viola and
no he didn’t “cheat” with a smaller instrument.
studio was a rather boxy sounding one – the sound is consequently
rather cramped and brittle. And had he had access to a professional
studio and recording engineers of course the sound would
have been more ingratiating. Time for retakes would have
ensured that those moments when he’s out of tune would have
been remedied. But against that this is really one of those “Giant
Leaps For Man” recordings. No.4 is sustained with legato
dignity and amazing depth of tone. The fanfares of Nine are
strongly projected and bowed. A retake may have compromised
the rugged masculinity and fearless bravura of Sixteen, gloriously
spontaneous sounding. The voicings of Twenty emerge intact.
Comparison with his hero Primrose in 13 and 5 shows the different
tonal qualities of the two men. In Thirteen Primrose’s bowing
is much lighter and wristier – the articulation is considerably
less pressured. Primrose is more elegant, daintier. Vardi
by comparison favours a more rugged timbral terrain – his
bowing is rougher, more plangent. In No.5 similarly he is
slower and has greater tonal depth than Primrose’s lighter,
by comparison almost Gallic playing. This was of course
the pre-Heifetz Primrose.
a box of rugged delights here. The fingered octaves of No.17
are dealt with something approaching aplomb – outrageous
- and the whole set, abrasions and all, is a testament to
Vardi’s instrumental command and tightrope walking skills.
is a small tracking problem with my copy – track 1 temporarily
segues into track 2 but rights itself eventually.
heroic undertaking returns to the catalogue more than forty
years after first seeing the light. It stands as a beacon
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