PAGANINI: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (Beata Jankowska/ Ilya Kaler/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550649)
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NicoloPaganini (1782 - 1840)
ViolinConcerto No.1 in D Major, Op. 6
ViolinConcerto No.2 in B Minor, Op. 7
Paganini'spopular reputation rested always on his phenomenal technique as a violinist, coupled witha showman's ability to dominate an audience and to stupefy those who heard him byastonishing feats of virtuosity. His playing served as an inspiration to other performersin the nineteenth century, suggesting to Chopin, in Warsaw, the piano Etudes, and to Lisztthe material of the Paganini studies that he w rote in 1838. The very appearance ofPaganini impressed people. His gaunt aquiline features, his suggestion of hunchedshoulders, his sombre clothing, gave rise to legends of association with the Devil, thealleged source of his power, an association supported by the frequent appearance by hisside on his travels of his secretary, one Harris, thought by some to be a familiar spiritor a Mephistopheles watching over his Faust. Stories of a pact with the Devil were deniedby Paganini himself, who, with characteristic understanding of the value of publicrelations in a more credulous age, told of an angelic visitation to his mother, in adream, foretelling his birth and his genius.
Paganiniwas born in Genoa in 1782 and was taught the violin first by his father, an amateur, andthen by a violinist in the theatre orchestra and by the better known violinist GiacomoCosta, under whose tuition he gave a public performance in 1794. The following year heplayed to the violinist and teacher Alessandro Rolla in Parma, and on the latter'ssuggestion studied composition there under Paer. After a return to Genoa and removalduring the Napoleonic invasion, he settled in 1801 in Lucca, where, after 1805, he becamesolo violinist to the new ruler of Lucca, Princess Elisa Baciocchi, sister of Napoleon. Atthe end of 1809 he left to travel, during the next eighteen years, throughout Italy,winning a very considerable popular reputation. It was not until1828 that he made hisfirst concert tour abroad, visiting Vienna, Prague and then the major cities of Germany,followed by Paris and London in 1831. His international career as a virtuoso ended in1834, when, after an unsatisfactory tour of England, he returned again to Italy, to Parma.
A return to the concert-hall in Nice and then, with considerable success, in Marseilles,was followed by an unsuccessful business venture in Paris, the Casino Paganini, which wasintended to provide facilities equally for gambling and for music. With increasing illhealth, he retired to Nice, where he died in 1840.
The sixsurviving violin concertos of Paganini, part of the stock-in-trade of a travellingvirtuoso, were published posthumously, the last of them relatively recently. In generalthey follow the form of the romantic virtuoso concerto as developed by the violinistViotti and by Spohr, allowing the soloist music of operatic virtuosity, an opportunity fortechnical and musical display. Concerto No.1 in D major,written, in fact, in E flat major, but generally transposed in performance to D major, wasprobably written in 1817, at a time when Paganini was enjoying enormous success in hisnative Italy, while arousing jealousy and suspicion in even measure from rival musicians.
The concerto allows the soloist to demonstrate a high degree of technical proficiency,both in the handling of the bow, with its flying staccato, and in the demands made on theleft hand, at the same time it shows a very Italian gift for melodic invention. Concerto No. 2 in B minor was written in 1826, a yearafter the birth of Paganini's only child, Achille Cirio Alessandro, known to his father asAchillino. In 1823 or 1824 Paganini had met the young singer Antonia Bianchi, who appearedwith him in concerts in these years, but was later induced, for a consideration, to leavehim. Her temper, jealousy and unpredictability caused her partner increasing difficulties.
Both of them appeared, however, in Paganini's first concert in Vienna, given in theRedoutensaal on 29th March 1828. On this occasion he played his B minor Violin Concertoand his Napoleon Sonata, a work for the G string of the violin only, and a set ofvariations on a rondo from Rossini's opera LaCenerentola. He made an immediate impression on the Viennese, always eager fornovelty, and a fashion began for anything ?á la Paganini, whether bread, hats, gloves orwalking-sticks. Paganini stayed four months in Vienna, amazing the public by hisvirtuosity and by the price of admission to his concerts. His playing, however, wasappreciated by a more discerning public, and Schubert, now in the last year of his life,attended three of the concerts, praising Paganini's Adagio, in which, as he said, he heardan angel sing. There is no doubt that Paganini's music, like his playing, could appeal attwo levels, to the public at large for its miraculous elements of display, and to othersfor its clear musical qualities.
TheRussian violinist Ilya Kaler was born in 1963 in Moscow and studied there at theConservatory under Leonid Kogan and Victor Tretyakov. In 1981 he won the Grand Prize atthe Genoa Paganini Competition and in 1985 the Gold Medal at the Sibelius Competition inHelsinki, with a Special Prize for his performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto. Thefollowing year he won the Gold Medal at the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition. He hasappeared as a soloist with the most distinguished Russian orchestras and abroad withorchestras of Eastern and Western Europe and in the United States, while as a recitalisthe has performed in the major cities of Europe, in the Far East and throughout the formerSoviet Union.
ThePolish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)
ThePolish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was founded in 1945, soonafter the end of the second World War, by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. ThePNRSO replaced the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, which had existed from 1934 to 1939 inWarsaw, under the direction of another outstanding artist, Grzegorz Fitelberg. In 1947Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PNRSO. He wasfollowed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko,Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983,Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatestdistinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagrania and many international record labels.
For Naxos, the PNRSO will record the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler.
StephenGunzenhauser, a graduate of Oberlin College and the New England Conservatory, served IgorMarkevich and Leopold Stokowski as assistant conductor before becoming executive andartistic director of the Wilmington Music School in 1974. In 1979, he became conductor andmusic director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. He records exclusively for Naxos andMarco Polo and his recordings include works of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Vivaldi,Mozart, Gliere, and Liadov. In 1989/90 he recorded all nine Dvorak symphonies with theSlovak Philharmonic, as well as the three Borodin symphonies with the Slovak RadioSymphony Orchestra.