Paganini 24 Caprices, Op 1
Only a few months after James Ehnes’s second recording of the Caprices, here comes another top-class account. Julia Fischer certainly has the technical equipment for this challenging music: only in one or two high-speed passages in thirds or tenths does she fail to match Ehnes’s uncanny purity of tuning, and in at least one caprice, No 12, with its awkward stretches and string-crossings, she sounds more comfortable than he. Her technique, however, is not of the showy kind; the particular strength of these performances is the way each piece emerges as an example of romantic tone-painting rather than just a virtuoso showpiece. In No 6, the study in fingered tremolo, she produces a wide palette of varied tone colours; coupled to a sure grasp of the music’s trajectory, these produce an effect that’s profoundly expressive. Similarly, in the Presto episode in No 11, Fischer doesn’t go all out for brilliance but, with restrained dynamics and a playful rhythmic character, achieves a wonderfully light, airy contrast to the lyrical intensity of the outer sections. In No 15, with its sudden dynamic changes that can sound crude and unmotivated, her sensitivity results in an entirely convincing interpretation, and the arpeggios of the First Caprice, played with unusual freedom, have the air of an inspired improvisation.
It’s true that Ehnes’s boldness and directness transmit more of the music’s scintillating brilliance and suggest the astonishment that greeted Paganini’s own appearances. But Fischer demonstrates the extent of his creative talent and how, with his violin, he opened up a new world of expression.