Chamber music displays another side to the virtuoso violinist–composer

Gabriele Pieranunzi: Paganini

The Strad Issue: July 2021

Description: Chamber music displays another side to the virtuoso violinist–composer

Musicians: Gabriele Pieranunzi (violin) Fabrizio Falasca (violin) Francesco Fiore (viola) Alessandra Leardini (cello) Paolo Carlini (bassoon)

Works: Paganini: String Quartet no.3; Three Duetti Concertanti

Catalogue number: CPO 555 310-2

If you have ever wondered what a string quartet by Rossini might have sounded like, then here is the answer. Such is Paganini’s reputation as a virtuoso sans pareil, it is easy to overlook his dedication to chamber music and mastery of sonata style. Anyone expecting the fizzing acrobatics of the solo caprices and concertos, or even the extrovert playfulness of Rossini’s sonatas for strings, can think again. Indeed, the last of Paganini’s three quartets, composed in 1815 for the King of Sardinia, is remarkable for its lack of pyrotechnical pizzazz, even though the first violin dominates proceedings throughout.

Not surprisingly, counterpoint is kept to a bare minimum – the texture is predominately tune-and-accompaniment – and everything is kept on its Classical best behaviour in the manner of Boccherini. The expert quartet ensemble, led by Gabriele Pieranunzi, plays with unfailing precision, technical expertise, and a natural feel for the idiom, although even they cannot rescue it from the outer fringes of the mainstream repertoire. On this occasion it is the ‘filler’ that turns out to be more instantly appealing: three sparkling duets for violin and bassoon, in which the music’s jauntiness and technical acrobatics combine infectiously to create bracing musical vistas bathed in Mediterranean sunshine.

Julian Haylock