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Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)
La Lanterna Magica
Centone di Sonate for Violin and Guitar, Op. 64: no 3 in C major [5:17]
Centone di Sonate for Violin and Guitar, Op. 64: no 2 in D major [7:15]
Guitar Sonata No. 34 in A major, MS 84 [1:28]
Centone di Sonate for Violin and Guitar, Op. 64: no 15 in A [12:26]
Guitar Sonata No. 35 in E major, MS 84 [1:48]
Centone di Sonate for Violin and Guitar, Op. 64: no 5 in E major [9:04]
Guitar Sonatina No. 4, MS 85 [5:41]
Centone di Sonate for Violin and Guitar, Op. 64: no 6 in A major [9:40]
Guitar Sonata in A major, MS 104, "Che va chiamando Dida"[2:33]
Centone di Sonate for Violin and Guitar, Op. 64: no 17 in A minor [8:31]
Cantabile for Violin and Guitar in D major, Op. 17 [5:03]
Keiko Yamaguchi (violin), Rosario Conte (guitar)
rec. Convento dell’Annunziata, Rovato, Italy, 3-6 July 2012
CARPE DIEM CD-16297 [68:53]

This is the debut solo album by the Japanese violinist Keiko Yamaguchi. She is accompanied by guitarist Rosario Conte in music that was not intended to be performed in concert halls but rather for private amusement and relaxation. As Rosario Conte puts it in the liner-notes: “It is Paganini’s chamber music which shows us his glowing, enthusiastic, and yet humble soul. It relates to us the close relationship between folk music and the Italian bel canto tradition, and it tells us of the tiny world into which Paganini was born, of his city, Genoa, with its narrow streets and alleys branching out between the mountains and the sea.”
 
With the exception of around 12 minutes of solo guitar music - all expertly played - this CD is dominated by the violin. The guitar has very much a secondary voice and takes on the role of accompanist rather than equal partner. The facet of Paganini on show here is the relaxed, lyrical side of his art - the kind of soaring cantabile melodies to be regularly encountered in the violin concertos, rather than the virtuoso fireworks to be heard in his Caprices. The tunes, to some ears, sound naïve and embarrassing but this is intimate salon music and if that isn’t your thing you had best stay away. The music plumbs no depths and breathes the same air as the young Rossini’s string sonatas. It’s easy on the ear but to be frank it’s probably best to dip in and out of the 68 minute recital on offer here. After a time, due to the lack of musical contrast, it all becomes rather cloying and one sonata merges into another.
 
Keiko Yamaguchi, judging by the sleeve photograph, is playing on a period instrument with gut strings and without a chin rest. She produces a sound that takes a few minutes to get adjusted to. Her playing is good rather than superlative with patches of less than perfect intonation and a tendency to produce legato tone at the exclusion of everything else. There are occasionally some fast bravura passages to be found in these cantabile-ridden sonatas to give the listener some musical contrast. Unfortunately, as presented here, these passages are really lacking in bite and fire. Everything is smooth and cautious to the point of becoming soporific. There is also very little in terms of dynamic contrast and no true pianissimo playing to catch the ear. The whole CD comes across as professional and well prepared but lacking in forward impetus and verve. The term “studio bound” readily comes to mind. Ms Yamaguchi should let her hair down and take a few more risks. Her approach is too careful.
 
This is delightful music when taken in small doses and it would be ideal for use as background music at a dinner party. The recording is reverberant and pleasant to listen to with decent separation between the two instruments. The booklet notes are excellent. I’m sorry that I can’t give this release any more than a lukewarm reception.  

John Whitmore