Two Views on Paganini

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Get a free download of Philppe Quint playing Paganini's Caprice No. 24.*

The Italian virtuoso Nicolo Paganini was reportedly so talented on the fiddle that only some kind of diabolical pact could possibly explain it, hence the popular myth he had sold his soul to the devil. To this day, parts of Paganini's Caprices are considered virtually unplayable -- unless that is, you've been to the crossroads yourself.

Two new recordings focus on Paganini’s fiendishly difficult showpieces -- one by the young German violinist Julia Fischer, who plays all 24 consecutively, and the other featuring the Russian-born, New York-based Philippe Quint, who romps through Fritz Kreisler's arrangements for violin and piano. This week’s Full Rotation presents both versions, side by side.

Julia Fischer, a serious 27-year-old who is better known for her recordings of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, explains in the liner notes that she wishes to resurrect Paganini's often "misunderstood" Caprices. She studied them intensively for several months and occasionally took liberties with the score to make them come alive. For example, she records No. 6 with a mute, which adds a spooky quality, even though there’s no evidence Paganini would have played it that way. Fischer applies other little tweaks here and there but manages to deliver the goods throughout, notably in the famous No. 24, which she plays with terrific speed and a strong left-hand pizzicato.

Philippe Quint’s approach favors a bit more romantic expressivity as he glides through Kreisler's violin and piano arrangements. Included here are two-large scale sets of variations based on themes of Rossini operas, La campanella and several Caprices. There’s more sonic variety in Kreisler arrangements but also a schmaltzier quality that might seem dated to some listeners. Still, the real point of comparison comes in No. 24. Quint’s version has a certain period charm but also power: the control of the bow in staccato runs is breathtaking.

Paganini: 24 Caprices, Julia Fischer (violin)
Available at

Paganini arr. Kreisler, Philippe Quint (violin), Dmitriy Cogan (piano)
Available at

*To download audio file, right-click on “download” (or option+click on Apple computers) and select “Save As…”

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Comments [9]

Ida P. Esannason from New York, NY

I have long enjoyed the music of Paganini and Kreisler. Thank you for this insightful bio on Paganini - I had not ventured into reading about his life prior to your piece. Please keep this kind of information before your "listening" audience. WQXR is one of the very few radio stations which I find entertaining, relaxing, energizing and informative

Sep. 27 2010 05:13 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from LaKE Hiawatha,l NJ

ENRICO CARUSO, I mistakenly inferred when I wrote about Paganini as having been born in Genoa. NO, Caruso was born in Napoli, Naples. about 100 years after Paganini's birth, February 25th, 1873. However, both received their original instruction, Paganini on the violin, and Caruso in vocal instruction, by Maestri di Cappella in their respective cities of birth.

Sep. 21 2010 03:29 PM
Kenneth Lane from Lake Hiawatha, NJ

NICOLO PAGANINI, the superstar of his day on the violin, was born on February 18, 1784 in Genoa, Italy. Arguably, the greatest singer ever, was born about one hundred years later, in the same city, Genoa. In both instances, their first instructors were the conductors, maestri, of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. Paganini had enormous success on his first public solo performance at age 9. At 13 he toured in the company of his father. Gambling cost him his violin to pay off his debts. A compassionate wealthy French fan, named Livron, gave him a Joseph Guarnerius violin which remained his most treasured possession. A noblewoman so captivated his romantic nature that he retired for 3 years from all concertizing.. At age 21, Paganini toured throughout Europe, playing to stupefied audiences. His "gimmick" was his delight in playing whole compositions on the fourth string alone. In Venice he was taken into the employ of the Princess of Lucca and Piombo, Napoleon's sister as her musical director. Ever the lusty romantic he began a liason with Antonia Bianchi, a dancer, who bore his son Achillino, when Paganini himself was 42 years old. His relationship with her lasted another 2 years. At 43, the Pope honored him with the Order of the Golden Spur. At age 54, Berlioz composed for him his "Harold in Italy." His lifelong addiction to gambling found him , ultimately, investing in his own casino, "The Casino Paganini" in Paris, which was refused a gambling license. This, and other financial reverses, aggravated his laryngeal phthsis condition and he died in Nice on May 17th, 1840, aged 56. His son received an inheritance equivalent to 80, 000 pounds and the municipality of Genoa received from his will the Guarnerius violin, which is housed in the city museum.

Sep. 21 2010 03:12 PM

Thank you for playing Philippe Quint! He has also made some wonderful recordings of contemporary work — check out his Corigliano Red Violin Caprices.

Sep. 20 2010 11:44 AM


Sorry for the spelling error! We've corrected it.

Sep. 20 2010 10:10 AM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

This has nothing to do with Paganini, but I just heard a Fritz Kreisler recording this morning, from 1927 that had none of that snap, crackle, and pop that you would expect from an old recording.

Can some sound engineer at WQXR tell me how that gets so clear? I've got a battlefield disc recording that my father made in WWII. I'd like to have it "processed" for greater clarity. Cost is no object.

Sep. 20 2010 08:18 AM
Sean Hickey

There's no doubt that Philippe Quint's Paganini recording is truly jawdropping. Kudos to WQXR for featuring a spectacular new recording from one of our most exciting violinists.

Sep. 20 2010 07:56 AM
Sidney Goldman from Baldwin, New York 11510

Philippe Quint has the ability to play this Paganini caprice. And Naxos with WQXR, have the good sense to make this short sample of the full CD available for its listeners.

This is another example. shown here, where WQXR provides us with music beyond what was scheduled on the radio.

Sep. 20 2010 06:11 AM
Michael Meltzer

You have posted the spelling, "Kriesler" two times and the spelling, "Kreisler" two times.
Only the last two are correct.

Sep. 20 2010 06:02 AM

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