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Paganini with prunes

October 29, 2009 at 3:42 AM


I didn’t respond to it at the time but I remember being somewhat startled by a comment on this site about Paganini being a second rate (?) composer/orchestrator, his name being coupled with Chopin in this regard.  The work of the latter cited was the f# minor piano concerto.  Actually I was playing that work in orchestra at the time and thought that in spite of the criticism of banality it actually had quite a few creative and interesting aspects and was thrilling to play.
Alas, I cannot offer the slightest sensible analysis of Chopin or even Paganini for that matter,  but I have been pondering this question a bit recently.  Since my in depth musical knowledge is profoundly limited I tend to see the following three criteria as equaling a `good` composer/orchestrator:   1) good tunes 2) interesting combinations of orchestral instruments and 3) knowing when to stop (as opposed to Schubert…)
I adopt these rather ad hoc criteria because in the above thread I cite, Paganini was defended quite admirably but in what seemed to me a slightly patronizing way, `we have to remember he was an operatic composer writing in the Rossini type genre for a certain public etc etc.`   For myself this doesn’t interest me so much.  Recently I have been listening to Paganini four.  It seems to me that it meets all my criteria to be truly great music perfectly well.  It has beautiful singing melodies, interesting orchestration (note that Paganini was very creative in who accompanies what with bassoons underlying violin tunes and so forth.  Made me think Pag was a tad influenced by Beethoven at times.) and no overkill. Enough said on why I like this great music;)
As for performer, I suspect quite a few people on this board may not have heard Ferraresi.  I was lucky enough to have the complete recordings presented to me by a good friend. This Italian player is simply extraordinary. To give you an idea of his stature,  he was invited to follow Zimbalist as director of the Cleveland Institute.  He turned the job down because he wanted to stay in Italy.    A pupil of Ysaye (purportedly his favorite) he has the most astonishing fast twitch violin chops I am aware of.  He can do what one might call virtuoso stuff with considerably more speed and precision than many of the greats (at times....).  At his best he is way ahead of the monster pack.  In some ways he is like Prihoda on speed, but good heavens he has a sound. To go with it. It all sings. At his best there is –no-one- better and I include Kogan, Heifetz et al in that statement.  The problem is that he is not always at his best;) Not only are all his recordings either live or one  shots,  but he is wildly inconsistent so he can sound truly horrible at times….  However, his Paganini 4 is so death defying I rate it above any other recording of this work.  The cadenza is also one of the spookiest demos of violin technique I have ever heard, even after Vengerov,  Kogan and Fodor.  As a demonstration of his inconsistency the recording is followed by a rendering of Bazzini`s violin concerto no. 4 that is truly crude and dull. Speaking of the relative value of virtuoso works,  that goes for the composition too! Maybe there is a connection…..

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 29, 2009 at 8:23 PM

I'm anxious to hear this Ferrari...   : )   Seem as if he has a lucky name for speed... "Ferraresi"  


From Stephen Brivati
Posted on October 30, 2009 at 1:46 AM


yep, but the wheels keep falling off. It takes some getting used to....



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