Rachel Barton Pine interprets Paganini’s 24 Caprices and other works

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Niccolò Paganini
WORKS: 24 Caprices and other works; Pine: Introduction, Theme and Variations on ‘God Defend New Zealand’
PERFORMER: Rachel Barton Pine (violin)


Not for nothing is Rachel Barton Pine’s latest release entitled Bel Canto Paganini. No matter how fast the notes are flying or how awkward the composer’s finger-crippling combinations of sustained phrasing and fluttering accompaniment, Pine sustains an extraordinary degree of legato composure, creating singing lines out of even the most labyrinthine pyrotechnics. Still more remarkable is how she avoids the almost inevitable noises-off caused by Paganini’s unforgiving demands, and the way her gently cushioned, golden tone emerges unblemished from Paganini’s note-splattered pages. As a result, his notorious technical chicanery demonstrates a musical profundity one might scarcely have thought possible.

Pine’s intonation is often ear-ringingly pure, as witness No. 7’s flawless octaves, and she doesn’t shy away from No. 5’s awkward combinations of ricochet bowing. She even manages in the left-hand pizzicato/thrown-bow exchanges of the infamous No. 24 to subtly vary her tone in the first-half repeat (incidentally, she takes all of the repeats indicated in Paganini’s handwritten score). Above all, Pine emphasises the familial connection between Paganini’s Italianate brilliance and Rossini’s scintillating operatic style. In the amoroso No. 21 she dons the greasepaint and plays as though she were delivering a soulful aria. She also usefully includes the rarely encountered Caprice d’adieu, and her own self-composed hommage, a set of variations on ‘God Defend New Zealand’ that sounds uncannily like the ‘real thing’.   

For high-wire thrills and free-flowing adrenaline, Schlomo Mintz’s dazzling 1981 account for DG is still required listening, but for a thought-provokingly poetic take on these inscrutable miniatures, Pine has no rivals.


Julian Haylock