Nicolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
String Quartet no.1 in D minor, op.1a no.1 (c.1815-18) [18:20]
String Quartet no.2 in E flat, op.1a no.2 (c.1815-18) [21:04]
String Quartet no.3 in A minor, op.1a no.3 (c.1815-18) [18:32]
Amati Ensemble String Quartet (Gil Sharon (violin I); Sonja van Beek (violin
II); Ron Ephrat (viola); Floris Mijnders (cello))
rec. Fransum, Groningen, the Netherlands, 2-3 April 2011. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94287 [58:03]
Paganini wrote fifteen quartets for violin, viola, guitar and cello, but these
are his only three for the archetypal string quartet, constituting his other
op.1, and quite a different kettle of fish from the famous 24 Caprices for solo
violin. According to the notes, it was Paganini who styled the Quartets 'op.1a',
his published op.1 having been completed a decade previously - chronologically
they should have been his op.4, 5 or 6.
The designation 'quartet' is a little misleading too, as these works are decidedly
quaint in their division of labour: most of the limelight goes to the first
violin, melody spinner throughout, whilst the other three strings, functioning
often like continuos, add a bit of colouring or texture here and there. Even
though the great cello virtuoso Boccherini had already dispensed with this kind
of arrangement in his own String Quartets a whole half a century previously,
this was a deliberate choice on Paganini's part - for one thing, he often took
first violin himself.
For another, he was in the business of giving audiences what they wanted, attested
to in this case by the fact that the Quartets were very popular in Paganini's
lifetime. In addition he was dedicating these Quartets to the King of Sardinia.
So it is that they are all cut from the same cloth - warm, cosy, supremely melodic,
eschewing all vulgarity. Aside from the imbalance in the scoring, they are most
reminiscent of Mozart.
There is no real pathos to be mined, but the Amati Ensemble String Quartet,
first violin Gil Sharon in particular of course, give an genial account of Paganini
at his most easy-going. The aptly named Paganini Quartet provide the only other
CD recording of these works, for Dynamic in the mid-1990s (CDS 134). Tempi vary
a fair bit in a movement-by-movement comparison, but that is not surprising:
as the notes explain, Paganini made few stipulations in his scores, allowing
instead the musicians to make their own choices. Those made here by the Amati
are appropriate and appealing.
The Paganini Quartet also recorded the fifteen "Guitar Quartets" for Dynamic,
and they and the three String Quartets are also available in a 10-CD boxed set
of the composer's 'Complete Chamber Works' (CDS 553/1-10, review).
There are two earlier Italian LP recordings of the three Quartets, incidentally:
the premiere by the Quartetto della Scala in the 1970s, and a second to celebrate
the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth by Salvatore Accardo and friends,
this latter later transferred to CD (Warner Fonit 3984 27593-2).
Sound quality here is very good, although the microphones may be too close for
some tastes. The glossy English-only booklet is a little threadbare, but all
the essentials are there and the notes well written. The biography is enthusiastic,
to put it mildly, describing "the famous Dutch violin virtuoso" Gil Sharon as
belonging to "the sought after category of super musicians with an unrivalled
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Warm, cosy, supremely melodic, eschewing all vulgarity.