The Strad Issue: January 2010
Musicians: Julia Fischer (violin)
Composer: Paganini

Following second recordings of Paganini’s caprices by Thomas Zehetmair (reviewed December 2009) and James Ehnes (reviewed January 2010), Julia Fischer continues her exploration of these violinists’ benchmark works with her first issue of this challenging opus. Apart from a very few minor imperfections of intonation, notably in caprices nos.2 and 4, she demonstrates striking technical mastery throughout, particularly in the bold octaves of no.3, the awkward finger extensions and string-crossings of no.12, and the arpeggio sections of no.5. She scores over many of her competitors by making music of each caprice, adding imaginative expression and character, shaping structures, varying tone colours, and conveying harmonic movement. Her tone is rich and her attack full-bodied, sometimes too much so for the close recording, as in the demonic middle section of no.19.

Unlike Zehetmair, Fischer is generally faithful to Paganini’s text, but she does allow herself some artistic licence, notably in no.6, where her muted and subtle shadings make the tremolandos all the more mysterious, and in no.5, where she disregards Paganini’s fiendish 3+1 bowing in the moto perpetuo section. She also plays no.1 freely, shapes the opening musette of no.20 expressively, and makes a coherent whole of no.24’s variations, adding a welcome range of timbral variety.