Every age recasts God (and the Devil) in its own image, and how we think about that god/devil violinist and composer Nicolò Paganini today can perhaps best be discerned from the latest recording of his heavenly/diabolical 24 Caprices Op. 1, which have delighted/tortured generations of violinists in equal measure.
I think of the various recordings I’ve heard over the years, and how different they all are, not just in terms of musical personality and technique but in the way they capture the musical Zeitgeist. Ruggiero Ricci, Michael Rabin (still among the greatest!), Itzhak Perlman… James Ehnes (his second recording)… Schlomo Mintz et al.
This year, Ning Feng, and now Alina Ibragimova, who both exude personality while for the most part eschewing showmanship (though there is always room for occasional flashes of arch theatricality). This is
sprezzatura, the hallmark of every true artist. Another way to describe it is neo-romanticism washed in the waters of decades of historical performance practice.
In recording terms, Ibragimova arrives at Paganini’s Caprices via Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas and Ysaÿe’s Sonatas and finds them flamboyant,...