Francesca Dego introduces her new recording of Paganini's First Violin Concerto
Paganini has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember and has always brought me luck. I’ve known for years that I wanted to record his First Violin Concerto so it is very exciting to celebrate its 200th anniversary (it was written between 1817 and '18) with this release.
Paganini represents a turning point in the musical evolution of the 19th century. He was hailed as a genius by Schumann, Schubert, Brahms and Chopin, and a large part of Liszt’s compositions are an attempt to transfer to the piano Paganini’s transcendental skill. His miraculous technique and his personal magnetism created a collective rock-star type obsession. Paganini’s writing was inspired by his close friendship with Rossini and indeed nourished by Italian opera in general, which he often conducted himself. His first performance of Matilde di Shabran in Rome, was followed by a famous drunken masquerade with Paganini and Rossini parading around the city in drag, strumming two guitars and singing appeals for charity.
I believe it’s simply wrong to play Paganini’s music concentrating on the violin gymnastics instead of the musical background and 'vocal' lines. You need to know and cherish Rossini and bel canto to fully appreciate and be a convincing interpreter of his music, and this is precisely what I wanted to portray when recording his famous concerto, arguably one of the most demanding pieces in the violin repertoire.
In recent years I have also been looking into lesser-known Italian repertoire in particular from the first part of the 20th century. Much of this was virtually purged from concert repertoire after the painful experience of Fascism. Even Respighi is mostly performed abroad and avoided in his homeland, and Casella, Malipiero, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Busoni, Alfano, Pizzetti and Wolf-Ferrari are too often left to gather dust in archives and libraries.
My curiosity for this repertoire was sparked a few years ago when I was asked to play a little-known concerto in Russia with the wonderful Tatarstan Symphony. I started researching and came across the Wolf-Ferrari, a grand post-Romantic concerto inspired by opera, and, in my opinion, a masterpiece.
The concerto is an oasis of simple but heartfelt passion and humorous commedia dell’arte moments, contrasting almost shockingly with the realities of Europe in 1944, perhaps as a kind of psychological refuge from so much barbarity. After the first tournées by the young dedicatee, Guila Bustabo, with whom the composer is said to have been in love, the concerto was struck by misfortune. First when all the copies were destroyed by an allied bomb (as Bustabo recalled in a 1945 interview for Gramophone) and later when Guila herself fell into disgrace, accused of collaborationism in the post-war years. I was sure it would become a very special piece for me, and it has, so much so that I decided to pair it with the Paganini for my debut concerto recording.
I love the voice and how it relates to phrasing on the violin, so the idea of an opera-inspired CD was in the making for years and I knew I wanted it to be with my husband Daniele Rustioni. One of the perks of being married to a conductor is that I get to see lots of opera performances which I love and don't involve me in any professional way, but inspire me at every turn. I was sure that together we would bring a common idea and expressive intent to the recording and that every moment building up to the live concert and sessions would prove inspirational and exhilarating. Working with the CBSO and getting to perform the UK premiere of the Wolf-Ferrari was unforgettable and I’m thrilled we can finally share the result!