PAGANINI: Violin Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 (Erno Rozsa/ Michael Dittrich/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554396)
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Violin Concertos Nos.
3 and 4
Paganini's popular reputation rested always on his phenomenal techniqueas a violinist, coupled with a showman's ability to dominate an audience and tostupefy those who heard him by astonishing feats of virtuosity. His playingserved as an inspiration to other performers in the nineteenth century,suggesting to Chopin, in Warsaw, the piano Etudes, and to Liszt thematerial of the Paganini studies that he wrote in 1838. The very appearance ofPaganini impressed people. His gaunt, aquiline features, his suggestion ofhunched shoulders and his sombre clothing gave rise to legends of associationwith the Devil, the alleged source of his power. These stories were denied byPaganini himself, who, with characteristic understanding of the value of publicrelations in a more credulous age, told of an angelic visitation to his mother,in a dream, foretelling his birth and genius.
Paganini was born in Genoa in 1782 and was taught the violin first byhis father, an amateur, and then by a violinist in the theatre orchestra and bythe better known player Giacomo Costa, under whose tuition he gave a publicperformance in 1794. The following year he played to the violinist and teacherAlessandro Rollo in Parma, and on the latter's suggestion studied compositionthere under Paer. After a return to Genoa and removal during the Napoleonicinvasion, he settled in 1801 in Lucca, where, after 1805, he became violinistto the new ruler, Princess Elsa Baciocchi, sister of Napoleon. At the end of1809 he left to travel, during the next eighteen years, throughout Italy,winning a very considerable popular reputation. It was not until 1828 that hemade his first concert tour abroad, visiting Vienna, Prague and then the major citiesof Germany, followed by Paris and London in 1831. His international career as avirtuoso ended in 1834, when, after an unsatisfactory tour of England, hereturned again to Italy, to Parma. A return to the concert-hall in Nice andthen, to considerable acclaim, in Marseilles, was followed by an unsuccessfulbusiness venture in Paris, the Casino Paganini, which was intended to providefacilities equally for gambling and for music. With increasing ill health, heretired to Nice, where he died in 1840.
Many of Paganinis compositions for the violin remained unpublished inhis lifetime, part of his stock-in-trade, to which he had exclusive access. Hewrote a quantity of music for violin and orchestra, including six concertos.
The Violin Concerto No. 3 in E major was written in 1826, a time of somedifficulty. In 1824 he had started a liaison with a young singer, AdrianaBianchi, who bore him a son, Achille, the following year, a child to whomPaganini became very attached. Adriana Bianchi, however, was a troublesomepartner, jealous and unpredictable in her behaviour, while Paganini, twice herage, was increasingly subject to illness. In 1826 indisposition forced him torest in Naples, where he wrote two concertos, the present work and the ViolinConcerto No. 2 in B minor. It was only in January the following year thathe was able to resume public performances. These continued, with appearances inRome, Florence, Perugia and Leghorn, only to be interrupted by the need to lookafter Achillino, who had broken his leg and needed constant attention, and arecurrence of his own illness. In 1828 he accepted an invitation from PrinceMetternich to visit Vienna, where the new concerto was first performed at theRedouteusaal on 24th July in one of the fourteen lucrative concertsPaganini gave in the city. Public enthusiasm, in which Schubert joined, wasenormous, starting a fashion for everything ?á la Paganini.
The Concerto in E major contains all the technical devices ofwhich Paganini was a master, extended writing in octaves, passages in tenths,double stopping, often in the highest register, artificial harmonics, bowedstaccato and left-hand pizzicato, all faithfully carried out in the presentrecording, without abridgement or simplification, as has sometimes been thecase. The first movement starts with a slower introduction in which dynamiccontrasts are calculated to arouse the attention of the audience. The principalsubject follows, marked Allegro marziale, an apt description of itscharacter. The orchestral exposition also brings a secondary theme, insimilarly operatic style, and the main theme returns, to prepare the way forthe solo entry with a dazzling series of rapid arpeggios, an ostentatious useof the lowest string of the violin in a higher register than usual, and moreornate material. This leads eventually to the second subject, passages ofoctaves and, once again, a use of the lowest string of the instrument. Themovement continues in a pyrotechnic display of virtuosity, the return of thesecondary theme proceeding to a brilliant cadenza, capped by the brief returnof the first theme in a short coda. The A major slow movement, marked Adagio,cantabile spianato (singing and smooth) has the shortest of orchestralpreludes, before the soloist introduces the principal theme, which frames acontrasting central passage. The concerto ends with a Polacca and acorresponding Trio. This starts with a lively melody, entrusted to thesoloist, followed by the orchestra, a procedure followed with the subsequentmaterial, after which the violinist exhibits his prowess in passages of tenths,left-hand pizzicato and artificial harmonics, all part of Paganini's technicalarmoury, before the return of the familiar opening theme brings the work to aclose.
In the summer of 1828 Paganini was able to reach a settlement withAdriana Bianchi, paying her off to end a highly unsatisfactory relationship andretaining custody of his son. After Vienna he travelled through Germany and toPoland, winning particular success in Berlin and Warsaw. In August 1829 hereached Frankfurt and established a base for himself there for the nexteighteen months of continued tours, during which he visited Leipzig, nowagreeing to play there, after earlier disagreements, and played for Goethe inWeimar. The young Robert Schumann had heard Paganini play in Frankfurt in earlyApril 1830, an experience to be reflected in his later music. In the same city,two weeks later, on 26th April, Paganini gave the first performanceof his Violin Concerto in D minor, written the previous year.
The concerto, a more lyrical work than its predecessor, follows theusual pattern, with an orchestral exposition that presents the two elements ofthe first subject, the portentous opening and more lyrical following material,framing the second subject and returning to prepare for the solo entry. Thesoloist at first seems about to embark on the opening material of the concerto,but treats this with great freedom in displays of bowed staccato, before therelated lyrical secondary element. A passage of double stopping, followed byartificial harmonics, leads to the F major second subject, after which there isfurther virtuoso activity from the soloist in double stopping, passages ofoctaves and tenths and a final trill in the highest register, before theorchestra concludes the exposition. A central section in A minor is followed bya recapitulation in which a passage in harmonic, is again used to herald thereturn of the second subject, now in D major. A brilliant cadenza leads to theorchestral coda. The F sharp minor slow movement, Adagio flebile consentimento (tearful and with feeling), starts with hints of a funeralmarch, bringing a ray of light in its central section. The concerto ends with aRondo galante, in which the opening theme is used as a framework forcontrasting episodes. These bring continued opportunit