Paganini (24) Caprices

James Ehnes delivers a revelatory recording of Paganini’s devilish 24 Caprices

Author: 
DuncanDruce

Paganini (24) Caprices

Ehnes has recorded the Caprices before, in 1995, at the age of 19. Since then his view of the music hasn’t changed a great deal – the smoother, more subtly phrased chordal passages in No 5 is a typical example of refinement of interpretation rather than a radical rethink. There’s the same daring, bold approach, relying on exceptional technique to deliver an inner vision of each piece – no pauses or stretching of the rhythm to make awkward corners more manageable. What has changed is that Ehnes’s technique has got even better, the intonation more precise, the bow control more sensitive. And the new recording adds an extra degree of clarity so that the playing makes a more vivid impact. Even a solitary listener will feel the desire to applaud the Presto section of No 11, with its jaunty rhythms and extraordinary leaps, or the quick staccato scales at the end of No 21.

The past year has been a bumper one for Paganini’s Op 1. Tanja Becker-Bender, also very well recorded, tends to downplay virtuosity, concentrating rather on making the music sound beautiful. It’s a successful approach but lacks something of the excitement Ehnes is able to generate. Thomas Zehetmair, with sharp contrasts of dynamic and tone colour, puts beauty of sound second to expressive intensity. His interpretations are highly imaginative, even extending to improvised variations of repeated passages. But of the three, Ehnes is my clear recommendation. He really is a top-class violinist, and it’s a joy to hear such difficult pieces sounding so completely comfortable and unfettered.

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