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Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D Op.6 [33:48]
Caprice No.1 [2:04]
Caprice No.2 [3:08]
Introduction and Variations on the Opera “La Molinara” by Paisiello Op.38 [11:50]
Maria Solozobova (violin)
Cape Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Cleobury
rec. City Hall, Cape Town 2012 (concerto) and Hardstudios Switzerland
ANTES EDITION BM319287 [51:12]

Maria Solozobova was born in Moscow and now lives in Switzerland. Her talent was evident as a child and at the age of ten she won first prize in Russia's most prestigious national music competition. After attending Moscow's Gnessin School of Music for gifted children, she continued her musical education at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and with Professor Zakhar Bron at Zurich University of Music and Drama. She completed her studies with Professor Raphael Oleg at the Basel Music Academy. Solozobova was appointed leader of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande even before finishing her work at the Academy. She has won several prestigious international music competitions, for instance the Johannes Brahms Competition in Austria (first prize and special audience price 2000), the W. A. Mozart Competition in Zurich (first prize 2005), the Tibor Varga Competition and the Rodolfo Lipizer Prize.
 
Some people can get a bit snooty about the Paganini - and others in a similar vein - but there’s no doubting its tunefulness or sense of fun. Solozobova is clearly a wonderful player. She tackles the Paganini concerto with great flair and affection. Her tone is golden - especially beautiful in the lower register - and she rarely shows any stress even in those manic virtuoso passages of rapid finger work, hellish harmonics and double stopping. All the technical difficulties are despatched with nonchalant ease. The first movement cadenza is superb. That said, this is probably one of those discs that I will not return to very often but that’s nothing to do with the playing of the soloist. The performance is taken from a live concert in City Hall, Cape Town. As such this would be a fine souvenir for those people in attendance on the night but for outsiders you have to put this into context with other recordings available on the market. The orchestral playing is enthusiastic and polished, putting a few minor blemishes to one side. These slight slips in ensemble are only to be expected in a live concert and the soloist is for the most part very secure. The central section of the last movement (the sul G passage) is less than stellar in terms of intonation but that’s the only real criticism to be made of the violinist. Unfortunately the whole venture is let down by the recording. I have no idea what this hall in Cape Town actually sounds like in the flesh but the engineers have captured something akin to a large swimming baths. The orchestra is awash with reverberation. The soloist can be heard clearly enough but it’s impossible to pin her down. The soundstage isn’t very stable and there are times when the violin appears to come out of both speakers in double mono.
 
To compound the issue still further the couplings offer a measly total of 51 minutes playing time. This would have been fine in the old days of vinyl but in the CD era ranks as quite unacceptable. The two caprices are brilliantly played as is the rather inconsequential Introduction and Variations but the studio-bound recording of these fillers is close, airless and boxy. This does no justice whatsoever to Ms Solozobova’s playing and she certainly deserves better than this. Indeed the Introduction and Variations is breathtaking in its execution and demonstrates without doubt what a truly virtuoso player she is. It’s quite a firework display.
 
There are plenty of versions around to choose from when it comes to the concerto. The 1958 Columbia LP of Leonid Kogan with the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra is still a personal favourite. The Naxos coupling of the first and second concertos is fine value for money with some magnificent playing by Ilya Kaler captured in natural sound. Those looking for a real bargain should search out the complete concertos on Brilliant Classics. This 3 CD set features the stunning Alexandre Dubach as soloist and the recording (originally by Claves) is bright and detailed.
 
I hope that future recordings by Maria Solozobova are supported by improved engineering and more generous couplings. I’m sorry I can’t be more enthusiastic.  

John Whitmore