WORKS: 24 Caprices
PERFORMER: Thomas Zehetmair (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-76259-2 DDD
More than anything else, perhaps, it was the spectacle of the gaunt Paganini playing in concert halls throughout Europe which fostered one particular dimension of the Romantic myth of the artist. For here was the musician not so much as social visionary (as Beethoven or Berlioz) but as the divinely, even diabolically, gifted being. Paganini was undoubtedly the most technically accomplished violinist the world had then seen, and he was shrewd enough to capitalise on his prowess: all his own compositions are first and foremost vehicles to show off his talents (despite the modish dedication of the 24 Caprices: ‘To the Artists’). For all the claims of Paganini’s apologists, the real pleasure of the Caprices lies not in what the composer does to his famous theme (exploited to greater musical effect by Brahms and Rachmaninov) but what he does to the poor violinist.
With lightning dexterity Thomas Zehetmair rips his way through Paganini’s box of tricks with the best: he dashes off the ferocious double-stopping, makes the violin sound like the flute, bagpipe and horn as required, and plays higher than one imagined feasible. The strength of this recording lies in its improvisatory lightness, though Perlman (on EMI) manages to wring more warmth from these outlandish exercises in bravura. William Humphreys-Jones