PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 2 in b minor; Violin Concerto No. 5 – Alexandre Dubach, violin/ Orch. Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/ Lawrence Foster – Claves

PAGANINI: Violin Concerto No. 2 in b minor, Op. 7; Violin Concerto No. 5 in a minor – Alexandre Dubach, violin/ Orch. Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/ Lawrence Foster – Claves CD 50-9408, 69:20 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Swiss violin virtuoso Alexandre Dubach (b. 1955) recorded the cycle of Paganini violin concertos 23-26 September 1993, infinitely enhanced by his 1727 instrument, the “Letze Rose” Nicola Gagliano, whose expressive power finds ample vehicles in the music of the brilliant, often ostentatious music of Genoa master.  Consider as well that Salvatore Accardo has served as Dubach’s mentor! The 1830 A Minor Concerto may well be the last of Paganini’s efforts in the form, but it underwent considerable revision for the 1959 revitalization and first recording by Franco Gulli.  The opening Allegro maestoso cites tunes from Le Streghe (Witches’ Dance) and the second movement quotes the  Sonata Varsovia, with orchestrations – incomplete at the composer’s death – installed by musicologist Federico Mompiello.   The constant application of double stops, even prior to the cadenza, seem not to daunt Dubach’s fluent ministrations of the Paganini tessitura, which likes to gravitate to the low G string followed by triplets. The broad spectrum of the first movement alternates between A Major and a minor, while passing through C Major and d minor rather ad libitum. The ritornellos enjoy the usual, expansive bombast that we associate with Paganini, almost in tandem with the rhetorical operatic ploys in Rossini. Dubach performs his own sultry and debonair cadenza to this movement.

The majestic slow movement, Andante un poco sostenuto, modulates from a melancholy E Minor into E Major. Its lyrical beauty in bel canto style sets the centerpiece for the concerto, asking Dubach to soar high into the instrument’s aerial regions, with surprising allusions to riffs from Beethoven, in the passing phrases from one of his Romances!  The concluding Rondo cavorts much like La Campanella, although in A Minor, except Dubach’s bow arm must perform more strenuous tasks, while venturing into harmonics. The various arpeggio passages require in accompaniment the frothy sounds of the woodwinds. Two episodes, in C and F, permit a more “Mediterranean” flamboyance to the proceedings. Dubach’s glib insouciance – a truly deft, light hand in flageolet and pizzicato effects – makes the entire concerto pass like a firm, rustic spring rain. As we near the conclusion, Paganini alludes to himself once more, dictating to us the Caprice No. 24 in a minor as a mighty finale.

Threatening tremolos mark the opening, Allegro maestoso, of the Concerto No. 2 in b minor (1826), which no less exploits upward rocket motions for the orchestra.  The striking eighth notes in the string section announce a flexible, arioso tune that the violin exploits in sixteenths at Dubach’s entry. Then the pyrotechnics begin: glissandos, triplets, thirds, sixths, and tenths, and rapid shifts of registration. Not for one moment does the slick, Italianate melodic gift escape Dubach’s applied ministrations. Meanwhile, Maestro Foster controls the pulsating rhythmic thrusts, their gives-and-takes, with flexible authority.  The extended cavatina, Adagio, opens with a hunting horn motif, then evolves into a pastoral-romance that assumes “Alpine” sensibilities. The fine control effected by the principals brings a grace and intimacy to Paganini that belies his reputation for pompous grandeur.  The last movement, Ronde a la clochette or La Campanella (“the little bell”) remains in a virtuosic class by itself. Before every repetition of the main theme we have the bells that Liszt so adored that he could not resist their repeated notes for his piano etude. The high harmonics, in tune with the triangle, set a sonic course, too, Liszt found irresistible. The entire movement plays out in the manner of a Neapolitan folk song ornamented by Dubach’s quick and study pizzicato and flowing arco passages make this reading as striking as intoned by Ricci, Menuhin, and Accardo. A first class effort in every respect, this Paganini combination.

—Gary Lemco

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