The Strad issue
Axel Strauss (violin)
Paganini’s Caprices have long been seen as concert pieces, but Pierre Rode’s earlier set is still best known today as study material. This is not entirely fair. Admittedly, some of Rode’s pieces – such as no.14 with its emotional fervour, or no.20 with its foreshadowing of Spohr’s Classical loftiness – stand up to concert performance better than others, which can appear rather dull. Paganini’s works always raise interest if only for their ultimate technical difficulties; Rode’s works while by no means straightforward, are rather less conspicuously virtuosic.
Axel Strauss delivers accomplished if conventional performances here. The first German artist to win the New York Naumberg Violin Award, he exhibits playing that is technically very fluent. He uses a lot of modern vibrato, which is fine for most of the time and is rarely mannered or excessive, and his command of the many bowing styles in these works is impressive. His phrasing can be a little unvaried, though, which makes no.6 rather directionless. This means that, for me, Strauss does not quite manage to free these caprices from the practice room in spite of his evident efforts.
In addition to these limitations, the recording quality here is an unusually disappointing effort from Naxos. The sound is much too reverberant, such that the interesting concept of the disc is lost somewhat in the execution, which is a shame.