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Nicolò Paganini

Amiram Ganz / Maria Isabel Siewers

Paganini Sonatas

  • Type CD
  • Label Challenge Classics
  • UPC 0608917211825
  • Catalog number CC 72118
  • Release date 01 January 2008
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About the album

On this album violinist Amiram Ganz and guitarist Maria Isabel Siewers play sonatas by Paganini.

Centone di Sonate - Sonata I
Paganini launched his set of 18 "medleys of sonatas," as the group is sometimes translated, with a typically charming three-movement duo for violin and guitar that really has nothing to do with sonata form; this is merely a series of entertaining salon pieces.
The first movement is a short but dramatic Introduction marked Larghetto; it has an overriding feeling of agitation. The violin plays jagged gestures over a swirling guitar accompaniment. Very soon this gives way to the Allegro maestoso, marked "in march tempo." It has the snap almost of a jig, but the minor key gives it an unusual character. At the center of the movement is a highly lyrical section, typical of Paganini's cantabile writing, before the march resumes. The final movement carries the odd designation -- but not unique in this collection -- of Rondoncino. It's an easygoing allegro whose recurring refrain is a melody full of little turns. The succeeding sections involve some decisive attacks, quick writing, and an extended pizzicato passage, but nothing nearly as difficult as what Paganini concocted for concert use. Throughout, the guitar takes a secondary but by no means negligible role.

Grande Sonata (for guitar with violin accompaniment)
While most of the works that Niccolò Paganini wrote for violin and guitar (including the 30 sonatas published during his lifetime as Op. 2, Op. 3, and the Centone di sonate) are brief, charming compositions in just two or perhaps three short movements, he did compose a pair of bulkier, more imposing vehicles for that instrumental duo. The Grand Sonata for guitar and violin in A major, MS 3 (posthumously printed as Op. 35) that Paganini penned around 1804 is one of those two weighty pieces (the Sonata Concertata, MS 2 is the other), and it pays to note that Paganini quite carefully and explicitly described these two works as being for "guitar and violin" rather than for "violin and guitar," as the rest of his sundry violin/guitar sonatas are marked (similarly, Beethoven and Brahms actually considered their substantial violin/piano sonatas to be works for "piano and violin"). Far from being a subordinate accompanist, the guitarist in the Grand Sonata is raised even past an equal level with the violin. To a large extent it is the sound of plucked strings and not bowed ones that drives and dominates the piece.
The Grand Sonata is in three movements (Allegro risoluto; Romance, Largo amorosamente; and Andantino variato) and fills about a quarter of an hour. Allegro risoluto is a real sonata-allegro opening movement, with two carefully balanced themes, a development, and a recapitulation, all in the positions one would anticipate. Paganini moves to the parallel minor for the following Romance; the traditional tables are truly turned on the violinist here, as he/she is asked to accompany the guitarist's sumptuously melancholic tune by plucking the strings of the violin! Although the movement is a slow one, the guitarist gets plenty of chances to provide impressive embellishments and indulge in some brief cadenzas. The scherzando third movement is intentionally cute; the light chromaticism at the start of the guitarist's melody and the slowly bouncing pizzicati of the violin are really quite disarming, and the subsequent variation-making is as playful as variation-making gets.

Sonata Concertata
Listening to Paganini's lovely Sonata concertata, it is hard to believe it is by the same composer who is responsible for the dazzlingly brilliant 24 Caprices and the dramatic Violin Concerto No. 2. With the opening Allegro spiritoso, which serves as the first movement of this loosely structured sonata, the work hearkens to the Classical style of Mozart or Haydn, where the balance between instruments leads to a unified musical expression, glorious but simple. Indeed, this entire piece may be described as dialogic, since a lilting call-and-response theme between the guitar and violin provides the structural basis. The second movement, Adagio, contains some simple but rewarding interplay between the two instruments; at certain moments, the guitar achieves an almost improvisatory freedom of expression, dragging the more relaxed violin along with it. This paves the way for the truly danceable final movement, Rondo, in which the violin takes on a more brilliant mode of expression than before. In sum, the work represents Paganini's most intimate, relaxed, and almost playful compositional mode.


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