Saturday, 2 December 2017

In Praise of Seventeen Year Old Girls

Of the many blessings that I can count, one is that I have never aspired to be a concert violinist in the modern world. It would have been bad for my amour propre, bad for my mental health, and disastrous for my personal finances. The competition out there is ferocious! I have just been listening (courtesy of YouTube) to 16 year old Lara Boschkor playing the first Wieniawski violin concerto, and the 17 year old Lara Boschkor playing Prokofiev's first violin concerto. Miss Boschkor appears — quite understandably — to have won every competition around since she was 10 years old. I can't compete with that. I give her Wieniawski and her Prokofiev three stars each. Most teenage wonders soon fade away. I hope she does not.

I commented recently on Vilde Frang and her highly distinguished CD of “homage” to pieces composed by, or arranged by, great violinists of the past. Ms Frang is now 31 years old, so hardly an up-and-coming young violinist. But she is certainly a force to be reckoned with (forgetting her unfortunate Mozart concerto CD with a band of costumed historical has-beens).

Even when I was young, I never even dared open the music to Paganini's 24 Capricci. But, then, I was never a 17 year old girl. Sueye Park, on a new BIS CD, is (just) 17 and plays the capricci extremely effectively. Technically, she is beyond reproach, and the accuracy of her double stops is quite outstanding. However, the capricci have lasted around 200 years because they are more than simply technical show-off pieces. Somewhat like 13 year old Tianwa Yang, many years ago, Ms Park also brings out the many sentimental and lyrical aspects of the 24 works (one reason why her CD lasts for an astonishing 82'41). For many violinists, the capricci are macho works, designed for showing off technique. Ms Park gives every single note its due; a difficult feat in technically challenging works, where it is often easier to flash through the difficulties at speed rather than to spell them out and play them accurately. As I am sure Paganini intended, the 24 capricci exhibit the full range and capabilities of the violin; listening to Sueye Park, I feel she has really thought through each capriccio and gives each its full measure as music, and as a technical example of what one violin with four strings and one bow can achieve. The older generation of violinists — Kreisler, Heifetz, Elman, Oistrakh, Kogan — never tackled the unaccompanied caprices on record, and it was left to violinists such as Ruggiero Ricci (1949) to open up the repertoire. Since then, I have much enjoyed Michael Rabin (1958), James Ehnes (2009), Leonidas Kavakos (1990) and Thomas Zehetmair (2007).

Beyond showing off a violinist's incredible technique, the 24 capricci are also about showing off the incredible range and variety of voices of the humble violin, and I suspect it is this latter aspect that would have had Signor Paganini nodding his head in approval had he been able to listen to Sueye Park. It certainly has my head nodding in approval. I listened to all 24 caprices one after another, a difficult feat unless the violinist — like here — has a broad range of colour and dynamics. In the end, a performance of Paganini's 24 capricci comes down to either: listen to what a wonderful violinist I am, or listen also to what a wonderful instrument the violin is. Three stars to Miss Park. And to Signor Paganini. And to BIS.

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