Paganini: 24 Caprices for solo violin

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Paganini
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: 24 Caprices for solo violin
PERFORMER: Julia Fischer (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2274

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Julia Fischer plays these notorious finger-breakers as though they were amongst the most treasured pieces in the repertoire. The amorphous flutterings of No. 6 seem to emerge straight out of a mist-laden Caspar David Friedrich landscape – desolate, lonely and decidedly spooky.

The opening horn-calls of No. 9, taken at a regal pace, uncannily create the impression of bells held high in the air. Moreover, the almost impossibly clean and true octaves of Nos 7 and 15 and the vibrato-free No. 20, with its supporting drone, are shaped with a story-teller’s care for musical diction and tonal nuance.

Unlike a number of other violinists – including super-virtuosos Schlomo Mintz, Itzhak Perlman and Michael Rabin – Fischer despatches even the most fiendishly demanding bowings exactly as Paganini intended. That is why No. 5 lacks the machine-gun articulation of some of her colleagues – instead of playing separate bows, she plays the borderline insane ricochet patternings indicated in the original manuscript.

Under even the most fearsome technical pressure Fischer’s intonation remains remarkably pure, and she dons the various rhetorical disguises Paganini assumes – invincible swashbuckler one minute, full of angst and introspection the next – with engaging aplomb.

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The one thing slightly lacking here is a sense (where appropriate) of devil-may-care exhilaration in Paganini’s outbursts of manic overdrive, which should ideally leave the listener exhausted and slack-jawed in amazement. Even so, Fischer’s ability to impart a convincing emotional narrative to each piece is hard to overlook – it makes for compelling listening. Julian Haylock