Paganini Caprices for Solo Violin
Lisa Jacobs (violin)
Cobra Records COBRA 0064 87:04 mins (2 discs)
As if to enhance the astounding inventiveness of Paganini’s writing, the general tendency for many years (at least on disc) was to play the caprices with the emphasis firmly on staccato brilliance, high-speed agility and free-flowing adrenalin. The downside of such an approach was that by the time one arrived at the fiendish flutterings of No. 6, listener fatigue was almost invariably beginning to set in. Lisa Jacobs, by contrast, emphasises cantabile purity, so that even the flightiest of Paganini’s finger-breaking miniatures emerges miraculously as though it was being sung. As a result, having negotiated the merciless ricochets of No. 5 using the original bowings (many players opt for separate bows), No. 6 sounds less like an excruciatingly demanding étude in accompanied melody than an operatic scena with a compelling emotional narrative.
No less persuasive is Jacobs’s velvet cushioning of No. 2’s awkward string-crossing leaps, thereby enabling its melodic chicanery to emerge as a seamless flow, and the withering-laughter descents of No. 11’s outer sections, which are inflected with just the right degree of temporal lassitude. Even the horn-calls of Nos 9 and 14, which are normally despatched in martialistic strict tempo, sound alluringly seductive here. No. 17, with its rippling downward scales and high-octane middle-section octaves emerges as a poetic gem in its own right, while rounding off the set, each variation of No. 24 is imbued with its own distinctive musical personality. Some may crave a greater sense of visceral excitement in this of all violin works, although musically Jacobs is virtually in a class of her own.