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Paganini: Violin Concertos 1& 2, 24 Caprices / Alexander Markov, Et Al

Release Date: 05/22/2007 
Label:  Apex   Catalog #: 699872   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Niccolò Paganini
Performer:  Alexander Markov
Conductor:  Marcello Viotti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saar Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PAGANINI Violin Concertos: No. 1 in D; No. 2 in b, “La campanella.” Caprices for Solo Violin 1 Alexander Markov (vn); Marcello Viotti, cond; Saarbrücken RSO APEX 699872 (2 CDs: 144:17) Live: Reggio Emilia 5/3/1989 1

Apex’s re-release of performances from May 1989 (caprices, originally on Erato 45502, reviewed by David K. Nelson in 14:2) and November 1991 (concertos, Erato 45788, reviewed Read more by David in 16:1), including no information about the violinist, may be intended for some sort of mass market. If that’s so, buyers in the mass market will hardly know what they’re in for. Paganini must have excited his audiences, sophisticated and unsophisticated alike, with more than violinistic tricks (even though those who heard them both claimed that Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst played with greater emotional force). Anyone who encouraged the rumor that the devil stood at his elbow must have played these concertos (the solo parts of which he recreated live and the orchestral parts of which he jealously guarded) with considerably more than the workmanlike precision they’re accorded nowadays. Consider the First Concerto: Yehudi Menuhin and Zino Francescatti reintroduced the whole piece after August Wilhelmj and Fritz Kreisler had rearranged the first movement only as a substitute concerto in itself. And however impassioned Menuhin had been, and however elegant and spittingly sassy Francescatti, they played the notes pretty much as written. Ruggiero Ricci took both concertos with insouciant technical aplomb and Rabin with breathtaking command, but the die had been cast (this type of performance perhaps reached a sort of pinnacle in Leonid Kogan’s dazzling perfection). Alexander Markov took a different approach. In the D-Major Concerto’s first movement, he brought melodies full of swooping portamentos almost to a standstill, then tossed off the passagework with the recklessness of Evel Knievel. At times, notes got swallowed, but that hardly blunted the effectiveness of his readings: from measure to measure, he invited us to wonder, as advertisers did about Phil Mickelson after he won the Masters several years ago, “What will Alexander Markov do next?” It’s part of the thrill of a live circus that you never really know whether the man on the flying trapeze will keep flying or plummet to the ground. Similarly, even though Markov’s performance of the concertos isn’t live, he keeps you wondering. Big, bold gestures, thrilling leaps from one octave to another—at least one of them tacked on, along with other improvisational gambits that make the performance all the more authentic—spitting staccatos, and in-your-face cantabiles combine to make these adrenaline-laced performances bigger than life. I reviewed Markov’s performance of Vieuxtemps’s Second, Fourth, and Fifth Concertos (also on Erato, 17878) in September 1998 and also, it seems, rereleased on Apex, calling them “definitive” and noting the sense of wonder they awaken. If I were to venture that word again, I’d want to make it clear that by “definitive” I mean that I’ve associated the sense of excitement they recreate with the great violinists whom I revered as heroes instead of Superman or Batman or Elliot Ness from my earliest days. Markov is no bespectacled, dour academic in a gray flannel suit climbing the hall’s stairs with violin case in one hand and briefcase in the other (he plays the way Nigel Kennedy looks). Perhaps rather than “definitive,” I should have used the word “archetypal.” The Second Concerto is just as thrilling as the First in Markov’s performances. David K. Nelson called this “one hell of recording” and left it to readers to decide what he meant. I’m not sure whether David liked it as well as I do—and I don’t know whether bargain hunters who pick it up without knowing much about Markov will realize how unusual it is. But I’d agree with David, it’s one hell of a recording (Viotti, Orchestra, and recorded sound all cooperate).

But wait—in Apex’s release you also get Markov’s live readings of the 24 Caprices. David K. Nelson’s enthusiastic and perceptive review drew upon the same image of the circus that occurred to me as I reviewed his recording of the concertos. He wondered at the end whether spending 70 minutes with a “human dynamo” could be altogether pleasant. I’m not sure that Paganini intended the caprices to be played, or heard, straight through at all, but I’d certainly rather hear a human dynamo than a computer-like clone. I agree with David about Rabin’s set of caprices (the later, complete one) setting the standard; but, still, Markov’s will wake you from any lethargy that hearing the set played by others ad seratim might produce. Listen to the middle section of the Fifth Caprice; some take it with the bowings indicated, some simply spiccato , but in any case, with a sort of antiseptic cleanliness that doesn’t seem to fit what we know of Paganini’s personality. And Markov occasionally adds a trick of his own to the sacred texts: for example, in the Sixth Caprice, he accompanies the tremolos discretely with left-hand pizzicato. And listen to the rapidly swirling thirds in the Eighth, the almost scraped conclusion to the Ninth, and the uncanny bagpipe imitations of the 20th. You’re not just listening to the caprices, you’re present at the creation. David apparently spoke to Bruno Monsaingeon, who he claims made a “film” with this as soundtrack, and who preferred Markov’s caprices to other, more famous, sets. David noted how quiet the audience sounded, but I heard coughing and wondered whether Markov’s intensity made them somehow uncomfortable.

By the way, Markov was born in 1963 to violinists Albert Markov, successor of Yankelevich at Moscow before coming to the United States, and Maria Yablonskaya, one of Oistrakh’s students. He won the Paganini Competition in 1982, so his performances of Paganini at that time must not have given offense. I remember hearing for the first time Paul Zukofsky’s caprices, which struck me as eccentric and interesting although rather crabbed and intellectualized. Markov’s, equally experimental, inhabit a different world. (And it’s not as though Paganini constituted the sum and substance of Markov’s message: he acquitted himself with both panache and charm in short pieces like those in “Violin Encores,” Erato 98481.) The recorded sound is reverberant and rather close.

Could it be only long familiarity with the repertoire that makes this pair of recordings so attractive? Does its appeal arise only as a sort of gloss on the more common understanding of the pieces? For now, I’ll leave such philosophical questions behind and accord the set an urgent recommendation.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin no 1 in D major, Op. 6 by Niccolò Paganini
Performer:  Alexander Markov (Violin)
Conductor:  Marcello Viotti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saar Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1817 
Date of Recording: 11/1991 
Venue:  Saarländisher Rundfunk, Germany 
Length: 36 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 2 in B minor, Op. 7 "La Campanella" by Niccolò Paganini
Performer:  Alexander Markov (Violin)
Conductor:  Marcello Viotti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Saar Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1826 
Date of Recording: 1991 
Venue:  Saarländisher Rundfunk, Germany 
Length: 30 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Caprices (24) for Violin solo, Op. 1 by Niccolò Paganini
Performer:  Alexander Markov (Violin)
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1805; Italy 
Date of Recording: 05/03/1989 
Venue:  Live  Regional Municipal Theatre, Emilia 
Length: 78 Minutes 14 Secs. 

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