Mister Paganini is the forebear, Ysaÿe and Kreisler two of the most illustrious executant-composers and arrangers who have followed in his hallowed steps. This disc salutes them all, in its way. Once in a while it would be interesting to hear more fiddlers take on the challenges of the Wilhelmj arrangement of the first movement of Paganini’s D major Concerto, but that is clearly not on the agenda for the bristling talent of Laurent Korcia, one of the most individual players of the day, and a man who never shirks risks. And as one might have anticipated, his collaboration with ex-fiddler Jean-Jacques Kantorow and the Paris Chamber Orchestra generates plenty of enviable tension, a drama set up between the clear-voiced Paris strings and elegant winds – whose opening paragraphs are almost dapper – and the more incisive, sometimes non-conformist tonal edge generated by Korcia. Kreisler famously recorded his own arrangement with Ormandy, but it sounded nothing like this – Korcia cleaves closer to Ivry Gitlis’s turbulent tonal sound through an admixture of his own teacher, Michèle Auclair’s aesthetic. But there is no gainsaying Korcia’s legato, or his fine cadenza, and with him you know that a beautiful tone per se
is of little interest: rather, it’s the resinous life of a phrase and its communicative essence that is of primary importance.
Korcia takes quite an elastic view of Kreisler’s arrangement of Albéniz’s Malagueña
with some evocative but decidedly smeary phrases along the way. La Gitana
is pure, unadulterated Kreisler, and so is the Petite Valse
, though this latter, seldom heard on disc, is for solo piano, an instrument its composer played well. Haruko Ueda undertakes the honours. Don’t be fooled by the track timing glitch on La Campanella
, Korcia doesn’t drive through it in 2:56, it’s actually 4:56 but the playing is fresh and invigorating throughout. The most exciting discovery here, discographically speaking, is what is – apparently - the first recording of Ysaÿe’s Paganini
Variations. Twelve minutes long in this performance this ingenious, pyrotechnical and brief series of variations are based on the famous 24th
Caprice. Except when he asks for military-style ascending and descending passages, they are highly diverting, and brilliantly played, though hardly in the same class, nor intended to be, as the later solo sonatas. The final piece in this admittedly rather short programme is I Palpiti
where, in a pleasing act of symmetry, Korcia is rejoined by the orchestra and Kantorow. The harmonics sing, the bowing sizzles, the conception is taut and brilliant.
So, yes, short measure for a mildly conceptual album, but plenty to stimulate.