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Caprices (Fenella Humphreys)

Fenella Humphreys (violin) (Rubicon)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Caprices
Works by Bacewicz, Beamish, E Howard, Kreisler, MacRae, Paganini, R Panufnik, Waley-Cohen, Wallen et al
Fenella Humphreys (violin)
Rubicon RCD1074   76:36 mins

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The theme from Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 is one of most recognisable and imitated melodies, widely transcribed (such as the version recorded by trumpeter Alison Balsom) and transformed (by Brahms, Rachmaninov, Liebermann and many others). Violinist Fenella Humphreys takes the solo work as a jumping-off point for a ‘Now that’s what I call caprices’ album, a compelling collection of contemporary responses – several commissioned by Humphreys – set alongside historic pieces.

The new set of variations features compact offerings from 12 different composers, resulting in a diverse but surprisingly cohesive group. From Emily Howard’s elegant, linear melody to Sally Beamish’s craggy soundscape, Humphreys channels Paganini’s virtuosity. She also displays playfulness and a light touch in pieces such as that by Héloïse Werner, which requires the violinist to sing to ten while playing.

Paganini’s iconic caprice and his own variations – as well as Nos 9 and 13 – appear partway through the programme; subtle anchors as Humphreys charters the harmonically choppy seas of Oliver Leith’s three-part Goat Head and Laurence Osborn’s Rendering Error. Roxanna Panufnik’s Hora Bessarabia, commissioned for the 2016 Menuhin Competition and receiving its premiere recording here, brings further contrast as Humphreys juxtaposes delicate breathy balletic phrases with fast-pased horas. The opening caprice from Mark O’Connor’s suite buzzes – as does Freya Waley-Cohen’s Caffeine, written during a coffee-fuelled flight and arranged especially for Humphreys, beautifully transformed from its original incarnation for recorder.

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Claire Jackson