One of the most grown-up review sites around
One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here


International mailing

Up to 40% off

  Founder: Len Mullenger


Some items
to consider

16th-19th November

Shostakovich 4, 11 Nelsons
Transparent Granite!

Nothing but Praise

BrucKner 4 Nelsons
the finest of recent years.

superb BD-A sound

This is a wonderful set

Telemann continues to amaze

A superb disc

Performances to cherish

An extraordinary disc.

rush out and buy this

I favour above all the others

Frank Martin - Exemplary accounts

Asrael Symphony
A major addition

Another Bacewicz winner

match any I’ve heard

An outstanding centenary collection

personable, tuneful, approachable

a very fine Brahms symphony cycle.

music that will be new to most people

telling, tough, thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded

hitherto unrecorded Latvian music


Buy through MusicWeb
for £12 postage paid World-wide.

Musicweb Purchase button


Niccolò PAGANINI (1782 – 1840)
The Paganini Caprices arranged for String Quartet (arr. William ZINN)
24 Caprices [75:56]
Wihan Quartet
rec. Domovina Studio Prague, Czech Republic, March 2009

Experience Classicsonline

What is the function of an arrangement? Historically it was a legitimate way of bringing otherwise unavailable music into wider public knowledge. Composers such as Schumann or Mendelssohn added piano accompaniments to the Bach solo violin works both to give the repertoire wider circulation as well as sharing their own compositional insights into the working of Bach’s mind. Today, with almost the entire repertoire available in multiple versions from authentic to enthusiastic what does an arrangement add to the sum of all human knowledge? In this particular instance I would have to say very little. That is not to say for a moment that this is not a well arranged and well performed disc because it is but I don’t really know why so much effort was expended creating it.
I first came across the name of William Zinn about 35 years ago. Back then there was literally nothing published for String Quartet except standard quartet literature. As I played in a quartet that needed repertoire to perform at weddings and parties we were always on the look-out for anything ‘light’. The first book of quartet arrangements (of Scott Joplin rags) I bought in 1975 was by William Zinn. Whatever his ‘serious’ arranging and performing credits it is in this field as a classical pops arranger he remains best known. In the intervening time the background string quartet has become one of the few areas of growth in the professional music field. To serve that need there has been an explosion in the quantity of published arrangements. Should you now wish you can buy everything from The Planets, Star Wars, even Mahler 5 arranged for quartet. Obviously, the function there is to play a familiar melody that people enjoy hearing – there is no sense of giving new insight. I could certainly imagine hearing one or two of these Caprices as an exciting and exhilarating encore at a concert. Whether a disc of all 24 really measures up is a matter of taste.
The Wihan Quartet is an experienced and talented group in the best traditions of Czech String playing. The fact that they won the coveted first prize - and the audience prize - at the well respected London International String Quartet Competition in 1991 is evidence enough of their quality. Individually they are fine players but, in choosing to stare down both barrels of the 24 Paganini Caprices they are facing some of the hardest string music ever written. Recently I had the great pleasure of reviewing James Ehnes’ new recording of these works in their original solo version review. That is a magnificent recording in many respects but the element of it that lodged most firmly in my mind was the effortless technical grace that Ehnes has. The gives him that miscroscopic extra bit of time to give the illusion of ease to all he plays. The leader of the Wihan Quartet plays all the notes he is given for sure but the extra effort is palpable. Add a rather close recording set in a resonant acoustic as well as three extra parts thickening the instrumental texture and it all makes for a rather unrelenting musical experience. I have to disagree with the liner-notes of Stephen Pettitt. He writes; “[this arrangement] is no longer about a single performer showing off. It’s about the notes and the music that lies between them … the impression his [Zinn’s] arrangement gives is not so much a matter of arrangement but of discovery”. The pleasure in listening to this piece is surely the balance a great performer (such as Ehnes) finds between the technical challenge and the musical goal. Lowering the technical barrier upsets that balance and for me reduces the fascination. Also, I have to say I find the arranging never less than competent but rarely inspirational. A valid case could have been made for a quirkily extreme version but this sits resolutely in the field of solid transcription. Yes, Zinn has to add supporting harmonies and occasional counter-melodies but not once did I sense profound new insights being offered. The addition of the three extra players fattens out the music and it loses the fantasy element and rhythmic freedom that graces the best of the solo versions. The many quick passages – well played though they are – have more of a bludgeoning effect when all four players are giving it their all. Try the very first caprice or for that matter the famous twenty-fourth. The opening is undoubtedly impressive but less … well … capricious. Don’t forget that these are works originally written sometime before 1820 at the Classical/Romantic cusp – this version pushes them into a high romantic sound-world which is a style the musical content is not able to support for much of the time. Given just how hard this music is and essentially how well the quartet play – I do find it rather aggressive playing too much of the time though – I feel rather mean-spirited not warming to this disc more.
Nick Barnard

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger



Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.