NiccolÚ PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No. 1 [34:09]
Violin Concerto No. 2 [27:40]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Overture - Matilde di Shabran [9:50]
Rudolf Koelman (violin)
Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/Jan Willem de Vriend
rec. live, Muziekcentrum Enschede, Netherlands, September and November 2008
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72343 [71:50]

Paganiniís Violin Concertos may no longer have the same ability to amaze as they did when they were first played. That said, again and again upon listening to this disc I found myself reflecting on how astonishing they must have been to those early audiences. The high notes in the cadenza of the first concerto, for example, sound for all the world like birdsong, and even though thatís not by Paganini you have to hear the virtuosoís influence in them.

The close sound helps underline the bright martial effects of the first movement, especially the clashing cymbals. Koelman is happy to wallow in the self-consciously genteel moments later in the movement. These stand in neat contrast to the skittish central section where the violinís effects can become a little wearisome, but they are very well played. The high drama of the second movement is conveyed effectively, though my attention wandered in the less focused finale.

The Second Concertoís first movement has a more strident air of drama about it and at times the soloist can sound like he is trying to tame the beast rather than collaborate with the orchestra. The ease with which Koelman carries this movementís frequent double-stopping is remarkable and he can also turn on the lyricism for the smoother second subject. The violin playing is the best thing about the slightly plodding second movement, but both mood and tempo pick up for the famous Campanella finale which fizzes and sparks through to the conclusion.

The Matilde overture is included as a way of indicating Rossiniís influence on Paganini, and also as a reminder that it was Paganini himself who conducted the operaís premiere in 1821, standing in for an indisposed maestro. Again, the sound brings out the crash-bang-wallop of the opening chords nicely and there is plenty of energy in the opening section. However, the allegro itself is too sluggish for my taste, for all that it allows the detail of the orchestration to come out.

You would never guess that this is a live recording, so well behaved are the audience and so well focused the sound.

Simon Thompson