Paganini: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1

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COMPOSERS: Paganini
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, Op. 1
PERFORMER: James Ehnes (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80398
Now that Paganini’s Caprices are almost a staple of the concert violinist’s repertoire, it is hard to grasp the enormous impact they made on their original audiences and, indeed, the whole course of Romantic music. By extending the violin’s technical possibilities so sensationally, Paganini personified the idea of the artist as super-human; Berlioz likened his performances to a comet that inspired a mixture of astonishment and terror.

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The young Canadian James Ehnes gives an impressive and polished performance, negotiating Paganini’s demands – the double-stopping, left-hand pizzicato and ferocious speeds – with assurance, but he is rather too smooth to be comet-like. Ricci, who first recorded the Caprices in 1946 and who, as a sometime protégé of Fritz Kreisler, stands firmly in the tradition of virtuoso violinists that Paganini could be said to have established, gives a meatier account. Despite being almost seventy when this recording (his fourth) was made, he brings to the pieces not only a thoughtfulness born of experience, but formidable energy and passion. The roughness with which he attacks some of the faster passages provides a thrilling and apt tribute to Paganini’s supposedly diabolically enhanced skills – not least because he plays on Paganini’s own 1742 ‘Cannon’ Guarneri del Gesù violin. William Humphreys-Jones