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Nicolˇ PAGANINI (1782 - 1840)
24 Caprices, Op.1 (pub. 1820) [84:22]
Introduction and Variations in G on ‘Nel cor pi¨ mi sento’ from La molinara, after Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) [12:57]
Duo merveille ‘Duet for One’, Op.6 [2:45]
Caprice d’adieu, Op.68 (1833) [3:08]
Rachel Barton PINE (b. 1974)
Introduction, Theme and Variations on ‘God Defend New Zealand’ (2000) [4:43]
Rachel Barton Pine (violin)
rec. August-December 2016, St Paul’s United Church of Christ, Chicago
AVIE AV2374 [73:24 + 49:11]

So immersed in Paganini had Rachel Barton Pine become in 2000 that, toward the end of an Antipodean tour, she composed her own Introduction, Theme and Variations on ‘God Defend New Zealand’. It’s the last item in this programme, a rip-roaring homage to the great Italian master inspired by the land’s natural beauty but also, doubtless, by Paganini’s own variations on God save the King. With left-hand pizzicati and virtuoso drama in the variations it caps a twofer with a salute from the soloist to a great predecessor and country alike.

But before the anthem Barton Pine unfolds the Caprices and here is the heart of the affair. She plays the dulcet-warm 1742 ex-Bazzini, ex-Soldat Guarneri (but since when, incidentally, did we need two exes regarding previous ownership of fiddles?) on which she has played for 15 years now. It sounds exceptionally fine and has been recorded very sensitively in St Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. She first came to attention as a Paganini exponent back in 1992 at the Szigeti International Violin Competition in Budapest and has since offered all-Caprice programmes worldwide, so it’s about time she committed her interpretations to disc. Fortunately for her, Avie has offered two discs, and she has responded by employing all the repeats. I can’t confirm whether this is unique on disc but suspect it is: I’ve never before heard a performance of the fifth caprice stretching to almost eleven minutes.

She plays with admirable tonal warmth and dexterous virtuosity. Sustaining breadth of tone her legato is superbly assured as well. She avoids the resinous intensities of Ricci in the second caprice, her more emollient play of upper and lower voices being a dialogue, rather than being assimilated in one direct line. She has the tonal body and the phrasal knowhow to convey that long fifth caprice: Ricci is altogether more robust and Iwan Kawaciuk, the great Czech player who recorded the cycle for Supraphon between 1956 and 1958, is steelier than Barton Pine, and less concerned to make a beautiful, rounded sound. Kawaciuk’s instincts throughout are invariably more vibrant and theatrical. That said, there is something admirable about Barton Pine’s consistent vision, her relatively unhurried, overwhelmingly assured breadth of tone and tempo. Her playing of the Devil’s Laughter Caprice, No.13 in B flat, is splendidly vivid and life-like. It’s more visceral in effect than Ossy Renardy in his famous 78rpm set made in 1940, though Renardy used the anachronistic piano accompaniment which blunted the impact of his otherwise magnificent playing. Similarly she is most effective in conveying the military effects in No.14 and deploys a nice array of tone colours in No.15 as well as in the reveille calls of No.18.

Throughout the set, then, she is a powerfully engaged but sympathetic performer, savouring the cantilena as much as the fireworks, bringing out lines, paying due regard to the music’s fiendishness as well as to its fun. In great sound, this is a real current contender and joins a list of similarly admirable discs by the artist. Elsewhere in the discography and much though I admire Ricci’s early traversal and respect Perlman’s, the set by Kawaciuk has always loomed large, for its tensile drama, its vivid theatricality and its sheer interpretative panache. The mono sonics are dated, obviously, but it will remain an important asset for lovers of the cycle. Accardo’s is one of the most obvious recommendable versions but Barton Pine’s spacious warmth is very appealing.

Not only that but she also performs the Duo merveille, Op.6 which, with its guitar imitations, is a duet for one, as it aptly describes itself, as well as the Caprice d’adieu, Op.68 which is a lightweight charmer and is played as such. The far bigger and more daunting pyrotechnics of the Nel cor piu variations actually begin the programme in dashing style, though those with archival turns of mind will always remember the recordings of another great Czech Paganinian, Vaša PřÝhoda, who performed his own edition, with piano accompaniment, to stupendous effect.

Barton Pine’s booklet notes make for pleasing, enlightening reading and are as articulate as her playing.

Jonathan Woolf



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