Paganimania is a collection of newly commissioned works for piano by seven contemporary composers. Their brief? Take Paganini’s 24th Caprice for solo violin and use it as the basis of a new composition. This project was the brainchild of Christopher Janwong McKiggan, an English-born pianist currently resident in the US and completing a doctorate at Rice University, Texas. It has produced some spectacular results, and McKiggan’s playing is uniformly commanding.
Robert Beaser’s Pag Rag teases out American Rag-influences with lyrical and rhythmic panache, while James Mobberley’s Capricious Invariance gently unfolds into cascades of colour with hints of fugues. Scène V by Moon Young Ha is meditative and expansive, allowing the resonant qualities of each note/chord to radiate outward in space. On this topic, it’s a good point at which to note that Paganimania is particularly well-recorded with the rich, warm tones of McKiggan’s piano hanging reverberantly in the air.
Other highlights include Zhou Jing’s Jade Clappers, a meditation on cross-cultural intersections between China and Europe through the Tai Ping Ge Ci music that, to her ears, is reminiscent of Paganini’s Caprice. Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen’s Pact Ink is fast, furious and captivating. As a pianist actively commissioning new works McKiggan is supremely comfortable with the technical and conceptual requirements of this repertoire.