Midori was only 13 or 14 when she recorded this account of Paganini’s First Violin Concerto and two morsels by Tchaikovsky, the Sérénade Mélancolique Op 26 and the Valse Scherzo Op 34. Yet the virtuosic demands of the first and last of these pieces do not daunt her; nor does she ever sound as if sheer virtuosity is an end in itself.
These are satisfying performances with no allowance needed for her youthfulness. There is a technical drawback – but it is not hers. Rather, the primitive digital recording technology of the time (this recording dates from 1987) denies her the sonic richness which earlier analogue record producers brought to a fine art, and which today’s digital engineers have rediscovered. There’s a rather dry, clinical feel in the recording. It’s for this reason that Midori’s account of the Paganini, although a satisfying performance, can’t really supplant such fantastic earlier versions as the mid-1980s recording by Itzhak Perlman or (my personal favourite) the incandescent 1950 account by Leonid Kogan.
It is, however, fascinating to hear the Paganini set against the two pieces by Tchaikovsky – the reflective Sérénade and Tchaikovsky’s own excursion into the wilds of virtuosity, the impetuous Valse Scherzo.