Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor; Sonata Varsavia (compl. by Spada)

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COMPOSERS: Paganini
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D minor; Sonata Varsavia (compl. by Spada)
PERFORMER: Gidon Kremer (violin) Vienna PO/Riccardo Muti
CATALOGUE NO: 446 718-2
Paganini’s Fourth Violin Concerto, first performed in 1831, shares with the others both a formal conservatism and a technical outlandishness that can still be startling. By treating this music seriously and affectionately, Gidon Kremer is able to sustain and even marry the two aspects. His warm, full tone and Romantic fluency invigorate the long legato phrases of the bel canto writing, saving it from the banality into which it can sometimes sink. Moreover, he brings his technical mastery to bear on the passages of musical fireworks – the double stopping, harmonics and spiccati – with an exuberance that prevents them from being too hard on the ear. His own cadenza is as barnstorming as anything that Paganini could have envisaged, weaving together themes from the concerto and from Schnittke’s A Paganini to create a gripping piece often of atonal modernity that complements and pays homage to Paganini’s inventiveness.

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The concerto is coupled (not over-generously) with the so-called Sonata Varsavia, a series of increasingly demanding variations on a mazurka by the Polish composer Józef Elsner. With the assured backing of the Vienna Philharmonic under Muti, Kremer again invests what is a bravura piece with a formidable musicality. William Humphreys-Jones