Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: No. 1; No. 2,
Kristóf Baráti (vn); Eiji Oue, cond; North German RPO Hannover
BERLIN 16462 (65:40)
A review comparing Zino Francescatti’s and Yehudi Menuhin’s early complete recordings of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto likened the performances of the two violinists to those of a lyric and dramatic soprano, respectively. If Kristóf Baráti comes closer to the dramatic than to the lyric soprano, he nevertheless
allows the lyrical second theme of the First Concerto’s opening movement enough freedom to breathe easily. But his leaps to notes in the higher register, the strutting recitative that opens what would be the movement’s development section, and the strong contrasts he limns in that section represent the composer’s histrionic side as well—a side that Paganini himself must have relished presenting to his mesmerized public. Baráti possesses a crisp right-arm technique, which produces a particularly brilliant effect in the movement’s many and varied off-the-string passages, but these wouldn’t hit their mark unerringly if his intonation weren’t so pure, even if it doesn’t stimulate gustatory sensations as Rabin’s customarily did. The Sauret cadenza crackles with static electricity. The same charge returns in the last movement after Baráti’s more perfunctory reading of the second—and he is insinuating in the rondo’s slinky episode.
The Second Concerto, cast in a minor key, offers richer opportunities for the kind of chiaroscuro that might have characterized the composer’s performances of even the most cheerful of his other works. And Baráti proves himself capable of weaving darker spells in these moments of shaded mystery, even if his performance of the first movement never departs so far from the norm as to seem exaggerated or eldritch—it’s just that he takes advantage of the dramatic possibilities, not least in his own cadenza. Baráti enhances the cantabile second movement with elegant portamentos, some of which, such as the one near the beginning of the melody, simply demand attention. The famous finale, with its bells “à la clochette,” however, showcases Baráti’s sparkle in a way that eclipses even his effervescent reading of the First Concerto’s characteristic ricochets.
Eiji Oue and the NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover provide light-hearted interludes in the tuttis, replete with rhetorical pauses and crisp articulation in the string parts, as well as alert accompaniment when Baráti takes the stage. The engineers have placed the soloist in front of the orchestra but represented the ensemble in almost three-dimensional depth.
After the early recordings by Menuhin, Francescatti, Rabin, and Ricci, the limits of listeners’ capacities for amazement had been almost reached; and while Baráti may offer an energy and brilliance similar to those of the pioneers, he lacks, as they do, the mysterious but irresistible aura of the fantastic—even gothic—that Paganini himself must have emanated in his appearances. That’s why Alexander Markov’s readings of these works (re-released on Apex 699872, 32:1), though arguably over the top, perhaps also intimate more about what made Paganini a sensation—it had to be more than simply his days of grueling practice as a boy. That having been said, as a recent version of the two concertos, Baráti’s performances, in conjunction with Oue’s canny support, deserve a strong recommendation.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin no 1 in D major, Op. 6 by Niccolò Paganini
Kristóf Baráti (Violin)
North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
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