Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
24 Caprices Op.1 for solo violin
Alberto Bologni (violin)
rec. 31 October – 1 November 2010, Punctus Studio, Lucca

For me, this recording comes up against that of Julia Fischer on the Decca label (see review), but there are a good few very fine recordings of these works around. Ilya Kaler on Naxos 8.550717 is pretty fearsome, and for years Izhak Perlman on EMI was considered unbeatable on a technical level alone, let alone musically, though even here there are issues to which one can point these days. My preference will almost invariably for a recording which makes real music out of these demanding violin studies, which mean that having their technical challenges dealt with effectively goes without saying. On this basis, Julia Fischer remains my favourite.
Alberto Bologni has appeared in recommended releases before from the Sheva Collection in Schumann and elsewhere with Haydn, and is clearly a very fine player. There are also plenty of good moments in his Paganini Capricci. I’m impressed by his octave double-stopping in the opening of No.3, and his musicality with the Maestoso and Lento type of pieces is fine. Where I can’t follow him is in the lack of accuracy we hear in so many of the virtuoso runs and figures which pop up all over the place in these pieces – the kind of playing which can be summed up as ‘scribbly’. Going back to the Capriccio No.3, the two outer Sostenuto sections form the outer layers for an inner Presto filling, which here commences at 1:18. The notes dart around all over the place, and we get the last note of most of the phrases, but what is actually going on in between. There is a good deal of chromaticism and many close intervals here, but too much vague passagework to make much sense of them. The Capriccio No.5 is a swift Agitato, and Bologni does well to start with in what is by no means his most problematic number, but can you sense the drift in intonation which pops in from time to time? Double-stopping is one of Bologni’s fortes, and the Capriccio No.9 and laughing No.13 are OK. He brings a good sense of drama and variety to the character of each piece, but for me there is always that little niggling vagueness at points of maximum complexity at speed. Comparing that famous theme and variations of No.24 with Julia Fischer and you hear a far greater sense of freedom around the notes – not essentially slower with Fischer, but with just that much more ‘time’. There’s that problematic accuracy with all those little in-between figures again, and that feeling that Bologni is surviving or attacking the technical challenges rather than transforming the notes into really enjoyable music. It’s not that he’s really bad, but having had the luxury of better for some time now it’s hard to make this a recommendation – at least, over Fischer, Kaler or Perlman.
The recorded sound for this release is good enough, with a respectable perspective between listener and instrument, but with a crisp balance which may be down to the recording or the player – I can’t tell which. Alberto Bologni plays a 1734 Santo Serafino violin, and writes concise and informative booklet notes. This is an interesting release which certainly puts the current standard of playing for these pieces into perspective. The conclusion is, if you can’t nail each and every note, no matter how small or transitional, you’ll pay dearly when it comes to presenting your CD recording.
Dominy Clements
Puts the competition into perspective.