This attractive Paganini tribute doesn’t quite hit the mark

Pavel Šporcl: Paganiniana

The Strad Issue: January 2022

Description: This attractive Paganini tribute doesn’t quite hit the mark

Musicians: Pavel Šporcl (violin)

Works: Paganini: Caprice no.24 in A minor. Slavík: Caprice in D major. Ernst: The Last Rose of Summer (Etude no.6). Schnittke: À Paganini. Kreisler: Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice op.6. Šporcl: Where Is My Home. Milstein: Paganiniana. Kubelík: Cadenza to Paganini’s Violin Concerto no.1

Catalogue number: HÄNSSLER HC20069

No prizes for guessing which violin virtuoso is being celebrated via this crisply recorded solo programme from Pavel Šporcl. So it was an eminently natural move to kick off with the famous 24th Caprice. The reading itself, though, is more unexpected. Not so much because at 5’43” it’s at the slower end of the scale – indeed I’m rather a fan of the additional Slavic melancholy this has lent to the initial theme – but because, as the variations progress, there’s a laboured feel to some of the technique that inevitably detracts from its success.

Going forward, there’s some nice programming: for starters, the snapshot Šporcl has given of the violinists immediately following in Paganini’s (1782–1840) wake. Namely, Czech prodigy and composition pupil of Schubert, Josef Slavík (1806–33), whose carrying of the Paganini torch was curtailed by his premature death aged 27, and the violinist who was able to leave more of a legacy, Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814–65). Schnittke’s À Paganini then makes a welcome 20th-century palate cleanser.

Perhaps the programme’s most successful moment, though, is Šporcl’s own clearly Paganini-inspired and often enjoyably lyrical set of variations on the Czech national anthem ‘Where Is My Homeland?’