INKPOT#63 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: PAGANINI The Six Violin Concertos. Accardo/LPO/Dutoit (DG)
NICCOL PAGANINI (1782-1840)
The Six Violin Concertos
No.1 in E-flat (?1817, usually played in D)
No.2 in B minor, with rondo la clochette (1826)
No.3 in E major (1826)
No.4 in D minor (1830)
No.5 in A minor (1830)
No.6 in E minor (c.1815) SALVATORE ACCARDO violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Charles Dutoit DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 437 210-2
3 discs [65:58 + 77:15 + 74:55] budget-price
by Ong Yong Hui
The Paganini concertos herald the start of the Romantic virtuoso era, beginning the exploration of advanced techniques in instrumental performance and the technical capacities of the violin. While some may decide that these works lack musical value, I think that they are valuable as a proof of the creativity of Paganini. Difficult as they are on the scores, Paganini only intended them to be bare outlines of the music and improvised at his performances such that every one of his concerts sounded different, even when he was sight-reading. Therefore the music of his surviving compositions actually bears a poor testimony to his talents; How else was he able to enchant people like Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Berlioz among others in a who’s who list of great musicians in history?
This set is currently the only complete recordings of Paganini’s violin concertos – the five intact ones and the sixth reconstructed from just the violin solo part. At least two more are lost, and so are other pieces which he jealousy guarded. The price of this set is quite attractive enough, and the cover picture is gorgeous in my opinion. Now, about the music…
The First Concerto is Paganini’s most performed and recorded one, because it truly is an archetypical example of music of the virtuoso age. After the pompous fanfare of the orchestra, the violin soloist burst out with commanding presence in a whirlwind display of scales, and never looks back. It’s all the soloist’s dazzling show from then on. Having heard quite a lot versions of this popular concerto, with styles ranging from Sarah Chang’s exuberant and flamboyant account to Arthur Grumiaux’s aristocratic display, I must say that Accardo here falls into neither category. Unfortunately, it is sorely lacking in imagination, and the thin violin sound would not do to show off Paganini’s dramatic and inspiring music. His techniques are very much assured, with passages of improvised left-hand pizzacatos peppered throughout the work as though it is the most natural thing for him to do, and Accardo’s own cadenza is amazingly showy to say the least. Despite the confidence in which the piece is tackled with, there is a coolness to the playing that almost sounds like a lack of enthusiasm.
Salvatore Accardo (left) does much better in the next most popular concerto, the No.2 in B minor, nicknamed “La Campanella”. The more poetic and recitative nature of the work gives Accardo more chance to play in his expressive style that would have normally only be appropriate for lyrical slow movements. The cadenza of the first movement is really brilliant and virtuosic, full of unspeakable difficulties yet entirely suitable in presenting the themes of the movement. After the ‘romantic’ character of the Adagio, a gypsy-styled rondo follows. Ringing bells accompanying the violin at each presentation of the main theme – hence its popular nickname, the “bell rondo”. Accardo is quite delightful here, his translucent violin tone and well-executed harmonics and ricochets bringing out the cheerfulness and springy quality of the music well.
The second CD holds the Third and Sixth concertos together while the Fourth and Fifth is left on the last. The operatic sounding music of the Third Concerto in E major surprisingly does not seem to show much progress from the First Concerto, with whole movements consisting of fragmented episodes. Accardo’s solo violin sounds more brilliant in tone quality, but I feel a bold and firm tone is more suitable to bring out the music. I do not really see merit in this concerto: the Adagio is rather lame and the Polacca after it losing direction and musical threads everywhere.
Personally, I like the Sixth Concerto more here. It actually predates the First Concerto by several years, but I find that the music is much more interesting and coherent than his other concertos. In it are all the elements of the “romantic” concerto, glowing with excitement and energy yet serious in intent and having an air of nobility. The Sixth is quite restrained in terms of the use of virtuosic devices, as Paganini probably had yet to challenge the tradition of composing concertos in a serious manner as passed down from Viotti and followed by his students Rode and Kreutzer.
The equal footing of the the soloist and the orchestra makes the piece more satisfying to listen to. Salvatore Accardo is in splendid form here, playing with style and bravura and totally majestic in sound quality. He demonstrates his musical creativity with his own cadenza here, exceptionally difficult and breathtaking and which more than makes up for the lack of showy parts through the concerto. Yet it is entirely appropriate, more so than the overdone and verbose cadenzas of the other concertos.
The Fourth and Fifth Concertos also benefit from Salvatore Accardo’s skillful playing. His confidence is very assured and handles these two rarely heard concertos very well indeed. Though the Fifth is a little tedious (especially in the introduction), things brighten up when Accardo’s violin goes into action, and his presense really makes the music more inspiring.
Overall, except for the letdown of the First Concerto, this set has many virtues for it to be recommended. For one, all six concertos are available at budget price. Salvatore Accardo’s wonderful technique is also a big plus point; His intonation is spotless, and he is definitely a master with obscure and difficult tricks like the ricochet and left hand pizzacati that is dispersed throughout these works. Get this to have a piece of ingenious and creative music composed expertly for the violin and see how these works transformed the way the violin is played from then on.
In Singapore, this set can be found or ordered from Tower (Suntec City and Pacific Plaza), Sing Discs (Raffles City), HMV (The Heeren) or Borders (Wheelock Place).
Ong Yong Hui has limited use of his right arm now after an operation, and is craving to go back and play those ricochets…(yeah right, dream on)…
309: 14.10.1998 Ong Yong Hui