Caprices en form d’études) seemed a novelty, while now Elizabeth Wallfisch’s new performance on cpo joins two others: Axel Strauss’s on Naxos 8.570958, Read more style="font-style:italic">Fanfare 33:5, and Cristina Giovannini’s on Stradivarius 51. While Strauss managed to squeeze the studies into a single disc, with a few minutes to spare, Wallfisch spreads hers over two (40:15 and 43:30). Wallfisch plays the caprices on a Petrus Paulus de Vitor violin from 1750 (the same one she used in her recording of Kreutzer’s Etudes, cpo 999901, 32:5). Her period sound makes the opening cantabile of the first caprice whinier and more astringent than it would on a modern instrument (especially in view of her adherence to the dynamic markings)—even in the reverberant acoustic environment in which cpo’s engineers have captured her (close up, to boot). Violin students can’t really take the set as a model for the development of a large and well-rounded tone, as they might Strauss’s, even if her crisp trills and rhythmic verve in the ensuing moderato (as well as her explosive articulation in the consistently patterned figuration of No. 2) could spur students to hours of work to achieve comparable mastery. Violinists know No. 3 as an exercise for developing fluency in second position (in which the left hand rides just a bit higher than rock-bottom on the fingerboard). Realizing all the sforzandos, however, and smacking all the trills crisply, she makes of it a brief character piece. No. 4 opens with an introduction in double-stops, in which Wallfisch seems less prone to noiseless shifts of position by the left hand than modern violinists might be; again, in the ensuing allegro, she emphasizes the longer musical lines embedded in the almost steady 16th-note motion, converting what might have sounded like a mere exercise into a characterful piece like those that became popular in the later 19th century. The leaps into the higher registers of No. 5, one of the brilliant showpieces of the set, sound particularly assured in her version. She plays the passagework with the flamboyance she might bring to similar moments in one of Rode’s concertos. After an introductory adagio, No. 6 settles into a moderato that alternates scales and arpeggios. This caprice comes closer to the etudes of Kreutzer or the caprices of Fiorillo than do many others, and even Wallfisch’s vivid imagination can’t really convert it into an entertainment for the uninitiated.
Among the caprices, No. 7, as does No. 5, seems to foreshadow the caprices of Paganini and the École moderne of Wieniawski or the polyphonic studies of Ernst in combining musical interest and technical challenges with downright pedagogical material. Here Wallfisch seems in her element, taking advantage of opportunities for both display and fantasy. Students following her performances with the score may learn a great deal about making the ordinary extraordinary—not that Rode’s caprices dwell very long in the world of the ordinary. No. 8, another patterned exercise, might serve as—or at least prepare a student to play—a movement from a Bach-like solo sonata or partita. That such a comparison comes to mind redounds to Wallfisch’s credit. An introductory adagio leads to the playful allegretto (a study in fourth position) that constitutes the main body of No. 9, in which Wallfisch sounds perhaps slightly more serioso than scherzando, although she hardly plays the triplets straight. No. 10 serves as a study in third position, and like several others, proceeds almost as a perpetual motion, although Wallfisch chunks the patterns so effectively that the listeners might almost miss the steady motion, losing the sense of the trees in observing the forest. No. 11, in B Major, stands with No. 5 and No. 7 as a brilliant display piece featuring the kind of concerto-like passages in which Wallfisch thrives. Yet she doesn’t play the opening so aggressively as do even some students, so intent upon making a strong impression in the piece; but neither does she mix relaxation with the moments of expectant exploration. No. 12, an etude-like study of arpeggiated intervals, which Wallfisch strives mightily to humanize, completes the traversal of the sharp keys.
The second CD features the last 12 studies, exploring the flat side of the circle of fifths. No. 13, Grazioso, looks patterned on the page, but Wallfisch demonstrates that its patterns don’t need to recall the chugging of a sewing machine. In No. 14, another slow introduction leads to a movement titled Appassionata, a title that shows how far these pieces range beyond the confines of Kreutzer’s studies. The mixture of scale passages and wide leaps in No. 15 makes it a showcase for Wallfisch’s strong dramatic sense. The teasing andante that follows (No. 16) might have served Beethoven for thematic material or as a model for writing for the violin (Beethoven supposedly studied Rode’s style before writing his 10th Violin Sonata, which he dedicated to the violinist.) Wallfisch makes in this piece one of the strongest musical statements to which she rises in the entire set. In No. 17, Vivacissimo, her rushes of quirky, crisply articulated eighth notes dispel any sense of solemnity. No. 18, another of the etude-like studies, leads to No. 19, broken octaves introduced by a melancholy arioso that could serve as a concert piece by itself. And Wallfisch matches her sensitivity in the first section with equally imposing playing in the technical one. No. 20 mixes more stately expression with hot-headed eruptions in 32nd notes, which Wallfisch makes downright explosive. She also strongly characterizes No. 21, which mingles cocky, almost Handelian statements with wide staccato leaps. No. 22 may be one of the steadiest in 16th-note motion, but its patterns vary so widely that it never sounds static, especially in Wallfisch’s performance. No 23, a study in double-stopped trills and patterns in which one line moves against others, leads to No. 24, which, though imposing, doesn’t bring the set to the same kind of conclusive summary that Paganini employed in his 24th Caprice.
Because Wallfisch plays her program on a period instrument, comparison with Strauss’s may not be so relevant for students who struggle with these caprices on a modern instrument. Nevertheless, those general listeners (and aficionados of violin literature) who have already acquired Axel Strauss’s set may wonder whether Wallfisch’s show requires buying a ticket. It does, and serious students will probably need both versions. Strongly recommended.
Pierre Rode’s name is credited as one of the great representatives of the classical French violin school along with Rodolphe Kreutzer and Pierre Baillot. This movement was initiated by the breathtaking demonstrations of technique by Giovanni Battista Viotta in the 1782-83 season in Paris, and is a milestone in the development of modern violin performance.
The extensive booklet notes for this release by Bert Hagels are an education in Rode’s career and times. As a composer he wrote extensively for his instrument, including 13 concertos, sets of variations and string quartets. The
Caprices en forme d’études, first published around 1815, are his most important work for solo violin. These are of course études or studies in every sense, covering every didactic aspect of violin technique, but they have also been long recognised as being among the best études in a musical sense. They are not arranged in terms of ascending difficulty, but arranged according to the cycle of fifths, alternating between major and minor. In this way they provide a more satisfying musical experience than one might at first have expected, and with other similar tonally arranged examples such as Bach’s
Well Tempered Clavier at the back of one’s mind there is a great deal to get one’s teeth into with this cycle.
The Caprices are filled with variety, both as a cycle, and within certain etudes, which can begin with an expressive slow introduction and then move on to the technically tricky fast leaps, energetic rhythmic material, contrasts of articulation, double-stopping and the like. The pieces’ frequently ritornello based structure are more often than subordinate to a sense of inventive improvisatory fantasy, and there is no sense of a procession of technical studies in the academic sense.
There is a small amount of competition in the catalogue for these pieces, and the Naxos recording with Axel Strauss was recently examined on these pages (see
review). Nick Barnard also introduces the Oscar Shumsky recording which I’ve also seen around, and has to be an interesting prospect. It’s a shame that this has been spread over two discs, reducing this release’s competitiveness in terms of price, but you’ll be glad of a short halfway break and in terms of quality there is no sense of being short-changed. Early music specialist Elizabeth Wallfisch is a remarkable performer and plays these works with a great deal of style and panache. The ‘period’ feel is present, but while vibrato is reduced it is certainly not absent, and its more sparing application at moments of expressive emphasis is a source of extra contrast. There are certainly no technical obstacles as far as she is concerned, and the 1750 Petrus Paulus de Vitor violin used is presented in a richly resonant acoustic without losing detail. Indeed, with remote-key pieces such as the
Caprice No.9 and
10 you can hear rather an overdose of chiming open strings between the notes being played. Wallfisch also enjoys a certain amount of portamento, sliding between notes in certain passages. This is not overdone, and I don’t consider it beyond the realms of stylistic credibility, but some may consider this an issue. Wallfisch plays with charm and wit, and this is indeed a set of violin solos which is well worth having to go along with the more ubiquitous and exhibitionist
24 Caprices by Paganini.
-- Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Caprices (24) for Violin, Op. 24by Pierre Rode
Elizabeth Wallfisch (Violin)
Period: Classical Written: Berlin, Germany Venue: Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre Length: 79 Minutes 24 Secs.