Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Twenty-four Caprices, op.1
No. 1 E major: Andante
No. 2 b minor: Moderate
No. 3 e minor: Sostenuto - Presto
No. 4 c minor: Maestoso
No. 5 a minor: Agitato
No. 6 g minor: Lento
No. 7 a minor: Posato
No. 8 E-flat major: Maestoso
No. 9 E major: Allegretto
No. 10 g minor: Vivace
No. 11 C major: Andante- Presto
No. 12 A-flat major: Allegro
No. 13 in B flat major: Allegro ‘The Devil’s Laughter’
No. 14 in E flat major: Moderato
No. 15 in E minor: Posato
No. 16 in G minor: Presto
No. 17 in E flat major: Sostenuto – Andante
No. 18 in C major: Corrente. Allegro
No. 19 in E flat major: Lento – Allegro assai
No. 20 in D major: Allegretto
No. 21 in A major: Amoroso
No. 22 in F major: Marcato
No. 23 in E flat major: Posato
No. 24 in A minor: Tema con variazioni. Quasi presto
Thomas Zehetmair (violin)
rec. no details supplied
ECM NEW SERIES ECM 2124 4763318 [67.24]
This is a most interesting and rewarding performance of a technical Mount Everest of the solo-violin repertoire, which offers a new perspective on almost every Caprice. Zehetmair has a well-deserved reputation as an innovative violinist who shuns status quo interpretations in favour of musical realisations that, although sometimes startling, are nevertheless always thoughtful and thought-provoking. The present recording is no exception; and, although some listeners, lay or otherwise, may prefer the refined polish of, for example, Itzhak Perlman’s very fine recording for EMI, or the measured precision of Salvatore Accardo for Deutsche Grammophon, this CD should be in the collection of every enthusiast of the violin literature, presenting as it does an excitingly alternative view of these works.
What is particularly exciting about these performances is the fact that Zehetmair very often decorates the repeats or the return of the first theme in rondo-type Caprices – for instance, in no.15, in which chords are realised as ricochet arpeggios; or in nos. 9 and 13, where double-stopped artificial harmonics are employed. Also striking is the fact that every Caprice is treated primarily as a vehicle for musical expression, rather than simply as a means of displaying technical prowess – indeed, Zehetmair seems always to be aware of the bel canto tradition in the context of which Paganini wrote these works (as may also be heard in the Violin Concertos and in virtuoso variation-type works such as I Palpiti). The one very slight quibble is that the faster Caprices sometimes slightly lose their sense of pulse; the Agitato section of no.5 is an example. It’s a shame, too, that the repeat of the Caprice is omitted, especially as Paganini specified two varieties of bowing: spiccato and jété – one to be used in each playing.
The booklet (in German and English) contains a fascinating interview with Zehetmair, in which he describes his approach to the Caprices and also discusses Paganini’s playing, the impact it had on his audiences, and his influence on violinists since. It’s refreshing, too, that the image of Paganini reproduced therein is not one of the all-too-familiar portraits that decorate countless CDs of this type. A small point, perhaps – but nevertheless indicative of the approach and the philosophy of this recording.
Em Marshall
A most interesting and rewarding performance of a technical Mount Everest of the solo-violin repertoire.