Paganini: Works For Violin And Orchestra - First Complete Edition

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PAGANINI Violin and Orchestra Works Massimo Quarta (vn, cond); 1 Salvatore Accardo (vn); 2 Yehudi Menuhin (vn); 5 Franco Mazzena (vn); 6,7 Ruggiero Ricci (vn); 8 Luigi Alberto Bianchi (va); 9 Franco Traverso (hn); 10 Rino Vernizzi (bn); 10 Genova Teatro del Carlo Felice O; 1 Charles Dutoit, cond; 3 London SO; 3 Franco Tamponi, cond; 4 Europe CO; 4 Pierre Monteux, cond; 5 Paris SO; 5 Luigi Porro, cond; 7 Coro Januensis; 7 Piero Mordini, cond; 8 I Virtuosi di Assisi; 8 Jacques Delacôte, cond; 9 RIAS O Berlin; 9 Antonio Plotino, cond; 6,7,10 Genova CO 6, 7,10 DYNAMIC 622 (8 CDs: 516:01)

Violin Concertos: No. 1 in E?; 1 No. 1 in D; 5 No. 2 in b; 1 No. 3 in E; 1 No. 4 in d; 1 No. 4 in d; 8 No. 5 in a. 1 Grand Concerto in e. 1 Adagio in E. 1 La primavera. 2,3 Maestosa sonata sentimentale. 2,3 Sonata con variazioni. 2,3 Introduction and Variations on “Non più mesta.” 2,3 Le streghe. 2,3 Sonata Varsavia. 2 Sonata Maria Luisa. 2 Pollaca con variazioni. 2 Balletto campestre. 2 Il carnevale de Venezia. 2 Sonata movimento perpetuo. 2,3 Sonata a preghiera. 2 Sonata Napoléon. 2,3 I palpiti. 2,3 Tarantella. 6 Le couvent du Mont St. Bernard. 7 Sonata per Grand Viola. 9 Niccolò Paganini a Mr. Henry 10

Dynamic has collected its recordings of Paganini’s works for violin and orchestra into an eight-CD set. Since everything has been previously released (and most of it reviewed in the pages of Fanfare ), the principal advantage to potential collectors should lie in the convenience of having everything in one place, in generally idiomatic performances and excellently detailed recorded sound.

I reviewed Massimo Quarta’s performances on Paganini’s Cannon of the First and Second Concertos (the First, played in the original key of E? Major, with the violin part scordatura) in 24:3 (these two concertos appear on the first disc of the current set), noting the historical importance of the appearance in recordings of the First Concerto in its original key (involving tuning the violin a half-step higher and thereby increasing the tension of the strings, brightening the instrument’s timbre). My original impression of Quarta’s brilliance in these works (listen to his crackling version of his own edited version of Sauret’s cadenza to the First Concerto or his own dazzling, though somewhat long, cadenza for the Second) has never faded; I’ve carried this recording around with me in my van since regular listening and familiarity haven’t yet bred contempt. Quarta made the original recordings in July 1999 in Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice, utilizing transcriptions by Matiaresa Dellaborra and scores revised by Quarta himself and Giulio Odero.

The second disc brings the Third and Fifth Concertos, which have been previously available in Dynamic’s set of Paganini’s concertos played by Quarta on the Cannon (Dynamic 450, which included a multimedia CD featuring the Cannon and a performance of the Adagio in E Major). He recorded these concertos in September 2001 and 2002, again in Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice, making use of a new orchestration by Francesco Fiore for the Fifth Concerto (collectors will remember the somewhat anachronistic earlier orchestration by Federico Mompellio that made its recording debut in Franco Gulli’s premiere recording of the work on LP—Decca (7)10081. Once again, Quarta revised the scores of the works for the performances. The Third Concerto has come a long way since Henryk Szeryng’s technically brilliant though rhetorically less convincing first recorded performance. Quarta imparts to the score the kind of brilliance with which Paganini’s name has become associated—if not the sense of macabre fantasy that his name conjured for his contemporaries. Fiore’s orchestration for the Fifth Concerto creates an impression of greater stylistic appropriateness that doesn’t distract from the Concerto’s overall effect as Mompellio’s score must have for many listeners. Besides, it enhances the effect of the exceptionally expressive slow movement. Salvatore Accardo, like Quarta, another winner of the Paganini competition, recorded all the Paganini concertos (the ones he recorded in the 1970s with Dutoit and the London Symphony Orchestra now appear in a six-CD set issued by Deutsche Grammophon—also available through the Musical Heritage Society on 5661921—there’s another set with Accardo and the Italian Chamber Orchestra on EMI); but Accardo never quite projected, at least to me, the almost startling command that nowadays substitutes for Paganini’s eldritch violinistic imagination (I’ve mentioned before that Alexander Markov manages to capture some of that fantasy in his recordings of Paganini, such as those of the first two concertos and the caprices, reissued on Apex 699872, 32:1, which I included in last year’s Want List). And Accardo made use of Szeryng’s versions of the Third and Fourth Concertos and of Mompellio’s accompaniment to the Fifth.

The set’s third disc brings performances by Quarta on Paganini’s Cannon of the “Grand Concerto” in E Minor, which has elsewhere been billed as the Sixth Concerto and which first surfaced in a version for violin and guitar. Again, the scores have been revised by Quarta, who also wrote cadenzas for them; and Francesco Fiore provided accompaniments for the “Grand Concerto” and for the Adagio in E Major that tops off the disc. The performances, again, took place in Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice. The “Grand Concerto,” which Danilo Prefumo’s notes suggest comes from Paganini’s early years, seems more akin in its passagework to Viotti’s models (Viotti-like figuration, for example, rubs shoulders in the last movement with motives that could have come directly from Paganini’s own Second Concerto). Again, the work first appeared with an orchestration by Mompellio. Fiore’s seems to make more frequent use of obbligato woodwinds than Paganini’s own arrangements seemingly do. Although Paganini’s characteristic double-stopping appears to have been thrust into the background (had it yet developed as a stroke in his signature?), Quarta makes this Concerto sound nearly as striking in its effect as do the others. The Fourth Concerto received an early recording by Arthur Grumiaux (on LP—Epic LC-3143) and Ruggiero Ricci also became an early champion. But it’s bracing to hear this work played in a fully digital format by Quarta. The Adagio, which Prefumo’s note suggests took form about the same time as did the Second Concerto (with the pages of which it seems to have been entangled), shares a great deal with the slow movements of the other concertos, including the typical quasi-recitative outburst of drama. Fiore realized its very sketchy accompaniment.

The fourth disc comprises five shorter works played by Salvatore Accardo, who recorded the Primavera, Non più mesta , and Le streghe in April 1975 and the Maestosa sonata sentimentale and the Sonata con variazioni in January 1976, all for Deutsche Grammophon, and they’ve been issued in various formats. (The Maestosa sonata sentimentale and the Sonata con variazioni appeared on LP as Deutsche Grammophon 2536 376 PSI—reviewed by John Bauman in 7:3—along with the Napoléon Sonata , the Palpiti , and the Perpetuela , which appear elsewhere in Dynamic’s collection.) Accardo plays these pieces stylishly, with perhaps a less aggressive articulation than Quarta’s in the concertos, but with a thorough command of their technical fireworks and a highly ingratiating manner. La primavera sports an accompaniment that hardly seems to fit the violin part’s period, but Danilo Prefumo notes that only the violin part had been available (he conjectures that the work might have been one mentioned in 1838). Its effects include a series of arpeggios like those that bring the cadenza to Mendelssohn’s Concerto to a close, in this case under the thematic material that enters before the finale. Prefumo assigns the Maestosa sonata sentimentale to 1828, as a tribute to the Emperor Franz I in gratitude for his bestowing upon him the title of “Chamber Virtuoso”—the work consists, after an introduction, of variations for the G string on the Austrian national anthem, which Wieniawski would later take for a set of variations of his own. The difficulties of intonation and tone production on the G string must have been staggering (I’ve read that Paganini’s pupil, Camillo Sivori, played the “Moses” variations only by cutting all the other strings and placing the G string in the middle of a small violin!), so it’s little wonder if Accardo occasionally misses a note. Once again, the orchestral accompaniment hardly seems entirely idiomatic. The Sonata con variazioni , often billed as Variations on a Theme of Joseph Weigl , also poses problems in intonation that Accardo struggles to master (Ruggiero Ricci made a dashing recording of this piece with piano, included in his LP album, “Bravura,” Decca DL 710172, that tames its difficulties, although Accardo’s double harmonics at the end sound especially confident and rotund). The Variations on “Non più mesta” from Rossini’s La cenerentola comes, according to Prefumo, from about 1819. If they sound somewhat scrappy in this performance, it should be remembered that the best recordings of Paganini (even perhaps Rabin’s of the caprices) contain imperfectly polished moments. The Witches’ Dance may be one of the most familiar of Paganini’s compositions—even budding violinists play the theme in one of many arrangements. Accardo plays the introductory passages with a suavity that characterizes most of the performances on the disc. Once again, the technical passages cause him some trouble, but he maintains his composure. The violin sounds sweeter in the performances of this fourth disc than the Cannon does in the three that open the set.

The fifth disc includes four works that Salvatore Accardo recorded for EMI in 1983: the Sonata Varsavia, Sonata Maria Luisa, Polacca con variazioni , and Balletto campestre . John Bauman reviewed the re-release of this recording on LP (Angel DS 38128) in 8:3. The lighthearted Sonata Varsavia showcases Accardo in a jovial mood, with a spotlight on his bag of tricks (staccatos of various kinds, harmonics, and some brilliant pizzicatos). Danilo Prefumo points out that Paganini transferred the opening to the Fifth Concerto. Bauman mentions that Edward Neill’s original notes explain that Accardo had played, in the Sonata Maria Luisa , a five-string controviola that he had constructed for the purpose in 1982. Prefumo identifies the Polacca con variazioni , a showpiece of easy elegance with an ingratiating double-stopped variation at its center, with a work mentioned in 1810. The concerto-length Balletto campestre , its tema comico reminiscent of the “Solfeggio” familiar from performances by the “Nairobi Trio” on Ernie Kovacs’s television show, fills almost half the program. According to Bauman’s notes, Paganini scholar Edward Neill composed the orchestral accompaniment to the violin part, to which Accardo imparts an almost jazzy twang at times. In this work and in the Sonata Varsavia , Accardo displays some of the dash and verve required to spice Paganini’s sometimes somewhat skeletal parts. In fact, the entire fifth disc seems like a joy ride through the violin’s upper regions, both on the fingerboard and technically in general.

The sixth disc includes the famous Carnival of Venice variations, the Sonata movimento perpetuo, Sonata a preghiera, Sonata Napoléon , and I palpiti . Some of these works (but not entirely) appeared on another LP, Angel DS 38127 (again, reviewed by John Bauman in 8:3) and others on the Deutsche Grammophon LP mentioned above, 7:3. Salvatore Accardo recorded the Carnival of Venice and the first two movements of the Sonata movimento perpetuo (according to Dynamic’s booklet) and the Sonata a preghiera digitally with Tamponi and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in December 1983, but the final movement of the Sonata movimento perpetuo, Sonata Napoléon , and I palpiti in January 1976 with Dutoit and the London Philharmonic. Bauman’s headnote lists a moto perpetuo from the Angel collection, but checking the disc reveals it’s the familiar one in C Major, not the movement on this sixth disc. The set of variations, which Prefumo attributes to 1829 on the familiar tune “The Carnival of Venice,” sounds like a barn burner in this orchestral setting (Francescatti made it harder edged and flintier—but hardly more brilliant or more fun—in his evening of Paganini at the Library of Congress in 1954, Bridge 9125, 26:4). The Sonata movimento perpetuo ought to be a welcome addition to recital programs, with its winning Andante amoroso and its sparkling final perpetual motion (this one in A Major). (Prefumo relates that Paganini must have been unhappy with the first version of the work and provided the Andante amoroso as a substitute for the introductory Larghetto con passione, which appears just before it in this collection and almost composes a sort of three-movement suite or concertino.) Accardo plays with rock-like security in the Sonata a preghiera , which strains a performer’s left hand, partly because of the extreme tension of the string (Prefumo doesn’t mention that the violinist must tune the G string up a minor third to B?). Prefumo suggests that the Sonata Napoléon , like the Sonata Maria Luisa , hails from 1810, perhaps both wedding presents for Napoleon and his bride. This work contains a similar mix of harmonics and acrobatics on the G string as does its more popular cousin, and Accardo displays the reliability of his technique in a similar way. Only I palpiti sounds less than rollicking, but Accardo’s always in command.

The seventh disc brings perhaps the least familiar repertoire: the Tarantella, Le couvent du Mont St. Bernard, Niccolò Paganini a Mr. Henry , and the Sonata per Grand Viola . Dynamic recorded the first three of these pieces with Franco Mazzena and the Orchestra da Camera di Genova (the Coro Januensis appears in the first and fourth movements of the five-movement Couvent ) in September 1983; and Luigi Alberto Bianchi recorded the viola work in 1973. John Bauman reviewed the first three works when they appeared on CD (CDS 27) in 13:3, and I reviewed a later reissue of Bianchi’s performance of the Viola Sonata in 23:4. Franco Mazzena plays with a leaner and perhaps a bit more pliable tone than those of either Quarta or Accardo, but he spits the double-stops with equal impudence, though perhaps without a similar security of intonation in the Tarantella. Couvent strikes Prefumo as a hint of what Paganini might have achieved had he devoted himself to composition. It’s a five-movement fantasy, two of which include chant-like parts for male chorus. No ordinary showpiece, the work nevertheless shows off Paganini’s penchant for the unusual and perhaps the histrionic, though Prefumo’s mention of Berlioz seems appropriate, because, as in much of that composer’s Requiem, Paganini makes use of his forces mostly (except near the end of the maestosa at the end of the fourth movement, which sounds uncannily like Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevsky”) to achieve timbral nuance rather than to create the big bow-wow. The work ends with the “Rondo del campanello,” familiar from its inclusion in the Second Concerto, which brings the work back to the sound of bells with which it opened. Mazzena sounds particularly crisp and engaging in this virtuoso romp. Just as the three duets for violin and bassoon, discovered in Camillo Sivori’s archives (and recorded by Salvatore Accardo and Claudio Gonella on Dynamic CDS 194, 21:3), demonstrate Paganini’s ear for instrumental sonorities, the two movements of Niccolò Paganini a Mr. Henry show how ably Paganini could adapt his highly individual style to the necessities of the occasion. Paganini may not have found Berlioz’s Harold in Italy an ample enough stage for his talents, but the Sonata he wrote for viola, while featuring some of his signature effects, hardly eschews his typically Rossinian operatic lyricism. As I noted in my earlier review, Bianchi doesn’t approach the viola as an oversized violin, but exploits its darker side.

The eighth disc brings historic versions of two of the concertos: the First Concerto in a historic recording of the entire work (the first, I believe) by Yehudi Menuhin in 1934 and one by Ruggiero Ricci from the 1970s of the Fourth Concerto. Writing of this performance by Menuhin, Henry Roth remarked that while Francescatti played like a lyric soprano in this work, Menuhin played like a dramatic one. However that may be, Menuhin’s performance stands alongside those of Rabin, Kogan, and Francescatti. If Ricci’s reading of the Fourth Concerto doesn’t have similarly documentary value, his life of service to Paganini certainly merits mention anywhere the composer is represented, and this live recording testifies to his stupendous if occasionally erratic virtuosity.

The question remains: would/did Paganini himself sound like any of these violinists? Listen to Alexander Markov, then imagine Markov’s eccentricities magnified a thousandfold. That’s how many of us would like to imagine Paganini himself. But since we can’t hear him, we’ll have to settle for collections like this one. Urgently recommended as the next thing, nowadays, to a time machine.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DYN-CDS622

  • UPC: 8007144606220

  • Label: Dynamic

  • Composer: Niccolò Paganini

  • Conductor: Charles Dutoit, Franco Tamponi, Luigi Porro, Massimo Quarta

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Coro Januensis, Genoa Teatro del Carlo Felice Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Franco Mezzena, Massimo Quarta, Salvatore Accardo