Paganini’s Complete Caprices / 24 Caprices de Paganini

Trascribed for Viola by Pierre Lenert

This recording of Niccolo Paganini’s Caprices is the first for viola since Emanuel Vardi’s complete recording for Epic, in 1965.

This miraculous collection of Caprices is more than just a study on virtuosity. It is a veritable treasure, a collection of masterpieces which the composer focused on a myriad of technical difficulties, each invented to elicit surprising harmonic richness. The musical mastery of each of the Caprices reminds us of Italian Bel Canto operas by Donizetti, Bellini, and even Rossini.

Paganini not only surpassed his numerous predecessors; he invented and performed technical challenges previously unknown to instrumentalists. If the treble represents Paradise in opposition to Hell, embodied in the bass, one understands why Franz Schubert compared listening to Paganini to hearing an angel play.  Indeed, Paganini profoundly influenced all the great musicians of his time, including Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Rachmaninoff.

Paganini was, in fact, a violist. The caprices – which we are used to hearing played with a violin – require not just a transcendent viola technique but the desire to search for and attain the Bel Canto spirit that animates the works. A simpler, more literal translation of the works would not suffice.