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My Favourite Paganini
Benjamin Schmid (violin), Lisa Smirnova, Ariane Haering (piano)
rec. 2001/13, Catholic Church, Fallsbach; Solitńr des Mozarteums Salzburg, Austria
OEHMS OC1893 [66:25]

Vienna born Benjamin Schmid, who celebrated his 50th birthday last September and has a 30-year international career behind him, is one of the most versatile violinists today before the public. He is the only violinist who has won the German Record Critics' Award in both the classical and jazz category, he has played with both Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin and he has a genuine interest in repertoire off the beaten track – his discography, which is very comprehensive, contains dozens of works never before recorded. Paganini’s works are hardly under-recorded – at least not when it comes to the caprices and the violin concertos – but there are byways also there, and on the present disc he has dug up unusual versions, many in arrangements by the legendary Fritz Kreisler, Viennese like Schmid. There are also a couple of works from more recent times, based on themes by Paganini. The concluding sonata by Tartini, has no direct connection with Paganini. Tartini died several years before Paganini was born and there is no record of Paganini ever playing it. But both of them were thought to have had connections with the Devil. Whether Benjamin Schmid has had similar experiences is not documented but his technical abilities are second to none of the famous violinists that have been documented on recordings, though I would rather say that he plays like a god.

You need only listen to Paganini’s Le streghe (The Witches) to realise that here is someone who is at one with his instrument. Enjoy his double stops, his pizzicatos, flageolets – it sounds as child’s play but of course there is total concentration and innumerable hours of training. The piece was originally for violin and orchestra and Paganini was inspired by a ballet he saw in Milan in 1813, composed by Franz Xaver SŘ▀mayr, Mozart’s pupil who completed his Requiem. Kreisler’s arrangement for violin and piano is quite effective and it is a joy to listen to. Nathan Milstein, a generation younger than Kreisler, certainly belongs to the top-ten violinists of the 20th century, and he retained his technique also well into his old age. He was 79 when I heard him playing the Brahms concerto masterly, and much later than that the young Benjamin Schmid took part in master classes with him and “benefited enormously”. His Paganiniana has become almost a standard work with its virtuoso variations on Caprice No. 24 but there are numerous quotations from other Paganini works as well. Paganiniana is still one of Benjamin Schmid’s frequent encores – and no wonder. He plays it con amore. And con amore is an even more fitting description of his playing of Cantabile and the E minor Sonata, where Paganini, the melodist is in the fore. One thinks of Paganini primarily as a dazzling virtuoso but there are many simple and melodious movements in his lesser known works, not least the 18 Centone di Sonate for violin and guitar from around 1828. These rather modest pieces are a goldmine for people with a sweet tooth. The variations on the lovely Non pi¨ mesta from the finale of Rossini’s La cenerentola is another treat, both for the melody in itself and for the virtuoso variations. The playing is superb.

One of the best-known compositions is La campanella, the last movement of his second violin concerto. The name is derived from the bell motif, and considering that Paganini wasn’t a very skilled orchestrator Kreisler’s arrangement with piano is a valid substitute. I don’t mind either to hear the two caprices from Opus 1 with piano. They sound fuller.

Alexander MŘllenbach’s Capriccio per violin solo brings Paganini’s music almost into the 21st century. It was composed in 1994 by the prolific Luxembourgian pianist, conductor and composer. But Paganini’s personality is still omnipresent. A new acquaintance I will return to.

And so the old-boy in the company, Tartini. He was just seven years younger than Johann Sebastian Bach and belongs to a different age than the rest of the music on this disc. According to JÚr˘me Lalande, who met Tartini, the “Devil’s Trill” sonata was composed as early as 1713, when he was 21, but scholars mean that it was more likely written in the 1740s. Be that as it may it is a fine work with a beautiful larghetto first movement, with the virtuoso elements creeping in in the Allegro energico and, even more, in the cadenza – the latter being Fritz Kreisler’s work.

Though recorded partly in 2001 and partly in 2013 the disc has never been issued separately before and appeared in a 20-CD box as recently as September 2018 in connection with Benjamin Schmid’s 50th birthday. There is

G÷ran Forsling

Niccol˛ PAGANINI (1782 – 1840) Arr: Fritz KREISLER (1875 – 1962)
Le Streghe:
1. Maestoso [2:51]
2. Tema. Andantino leggero [0:50]
3. Variazione I [0:53]
4. Variazione II [1:08]
5. Variazione III [2:46]
6. Cadenza [1:25]
Nathan MILSTEIN (1904 – 1992)
7. Paganiniana. Variations [7:51]
8. Cantabile [3:48]
Non pi¨ mesta, Op. 12:
9. Andante [1:52]
10. Thema. Allegro [0:41]
11. Var I [1:37]
12. Var II. Molto moderato [1:52]
13. Var III. Andante [1:35]
14. Allegro [3:13]
15. Sonata XII in E minor [3:32]
16. La campanella, Op. 7: Allegretto grazioso [5:21]
17. Caprice Op. 1 No. 20 [2:52]
18. Caprice Op. 1 No. 13 [3:06]
Alexander M▄LLENBACH (b. 1949)
19. Capriccio per violino solo [3:35]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692 – 1770) Arr: Fritz KREISLER
Sonata in G minor for violin and piano “Devil’s Trill”
20. Larghetto [3:49]
21. Allegro energico [8:43]
22. Cadenza [2:51]

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