Unusually exploratory performances of a well-known set of virtuoso studies
Modern pedagogy (and strings) make the challenges of these Caprices more surmountable today than in Paganini’s times, but few recordings search out the musical depths as convincingly as the youngest ever Premio Paganini competition winner, Ilya Gringolts. His modern use of vibrato – and the resultant power and sweetness – testifies to his former teachers Perlman (Juilliard) and Liberova and Metallidi (St Petersburg). Yet these are quirky performances, imbued with an experimental quality, and it is not too fanciful to imagine something of Paganini’s own ‘other-worldliness’. This is evident in the humour of the first Caprice, the thin, weird soundscape of no.2, or the fleetness of no.10, to name a few examples. There’s a febrile and almost unhealthy quality to no.20 with the accompanying drone sounding menacing – a long way from the comfortable approach to this engaging melody found in many performances. Gringolts’s playing is not easy listening – at times, as in no.17, strings are pushed to their limits, and musical ideas appear more important than tonal beauty for its own sake. Sometimes these ideas are too mannered – there’s a tendency towards staged ‘swells’ to longer notes, as in nos.4 or 7 – but overall, it’s an exciting disc, in a well-balanced recording.