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Niccol˛ PAGANINI (1782-1840)
24 Caprices for violin solo (1802-17)
Sueye Park (violin)
rec. Stora salen, Studio Acusticum Piteň, Sweden, 2016
Reviewed in surround
BIS BIS2282 SACD [82:41]

This repertoire is, for the listener, essentially 24 encores, so listening to all of them straight through is not expected unless separated by 24 concerto performances and many weeks. Having done exactly what I should not be doing, taking just two sessions to complete the disc, the listener in me is completely sated and has little wish to do it again. Paganini was a remarkable and very strange musician. In his own day he was assumed to be in league with the devil. Nowadays the violinists who play these pieces with such apparent ease are simply seen as very skilful but not particularly uncommon. Sueye Park does not appear to be in league with anything save great talent and a fabulously good violin on which to perform - a 1739 Guarneri 'del Ges¨' no less. Unsurprisingly she sounds consistently wonderful giving these pieces all the dynamic extremes and tonal beauty they need. Even her intonation barely falters. This in particular used to catch out some of the virtuosi of the past. Ruggiero Ricci, who famously recorded the Caprices in 1960, was criticized (gently) for the occasional pitch problem. Sueye Park's website announces that she will be playing just two concertos (the Bruch and the Tchaikovsky, repeatedly) at various venues in 2018 so by my calculation she has a long career in front of her just catching up on these brilliant encores. One hopes she will soon record something less ephemeral so we can find out what she is made of. I suggest the Bach Solo Sonatas and Partitas or the Bartok Solo Sonata would give her technique and her musicianship a thorough testing.

The American violinist Rachel Barton Pine is interviewed at length about these pieces and has a lot of context and some commentary on every single one of them. During this she brings out the hugely varied characteristics present in the set as well as their roots in the operatic Bel Canto tradition. This has to make one pause to consider them as musical inventions apart from their obvious role as technical display. Nonetheless it is as the latter that they tend to be seen. They do demonstrate just about every technique available to the player. What they do not do is set about exploring different keys as do so many musical sets of 24. Whether that is the reason they have to be heard in smaller doses than Bach Preludes and Fugues, or Chopin ╔tudes, I cannot say.

This disc is a magnificent display of technique, both musical and audio-technical, on the part of Sueye Park and her engineering team and it should sell by the thousands on her tour. I cannot be certain it is the sort of thing we listeners would listen to very often, impressive though it is. I hope Ms Park will quickly return to the studio with a main course so we can utilise these post-prandial offerings.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Nick Barnard



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