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September 21, 2017

Bel Canto Paganini: Rachel Barton Pine takes on the Caprices



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Nicolo Paganini dazzled audiences in his time with his unprecedented virtuosity, made women swoon (and men envious), and helped to create the myth that he must have sold his soul for such abilities.  In truth, Paganini was a gifted creator of original melodies, as well as variations on opera arias and popular tunes of his day.  His 24 Caprices for unaccompanied violin are beloved by violinists (and somewhat intimidating, I’m sure, to students), and are often played as encores.  American violinist Rachel Barton Pine has taken it one step further:  being among the very few who perform all 24 caprices in concerts.  Having done so for many years, she’s now documented her special take on these intimate, yet very flashy, solo violin miniatures.

Each has a different character, and Ms. Pine says, tells a story.  Some are heroic, some are love songs, some are demonic in their use of harmonies and technique.  No. 24 in a minor is the most famous, set into variation form afterwards by many composers (most famously Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Paganini, 1934).  Maybe it’s Pine’s particular interpretation, or maybe the rare time spent listening to nearly all of these, is that the works are highly original, and eminently appealing and entertaining.  And, they don’t bore the ear.  Some might think that an entire set of pieces for unaccompanied string instrument would run out of steam, but Paganini’s Caprices are each so individual of one another, that one can find something to enjoy in each (even if it’s something technical rather than melodic).

Ms. Pine has also included works written by Paganini based on opera melodies, and she has created an entirely new work of her own, inspired by Paganini’s variation style:  a setting of New Zealand’s national anthem, “God Save New Zealand”.  Pine wrote it in homage to the country that had so enchanted her on a recent tour.  It makes a fitting conclusion to this 2-CD set, and helps to bring Paganini’s music into the 21st century.

Bel Canto PaganiniRachel Barton Pine
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