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Niccolo Paganini’s “24 Caprices for Solo Violin,” composed in 1805, have
long understandably been regarded as a “rite of passage” or “trial by
fire” for aspiring concert violinists. As director Bruno Monsaingeon points
out in his notes included on this DVD, few violinists have played them in
their entirety in public or recorded all of them, prior to the 1970’s.
Nevertheless, you can rest assured that all great violinists since Paganini
have been familiar with them.

In Bruno Monsaingeon’s 1989 film, “Alexander Markov: Paganini’s 24
Caprices,”
we are treated to a live performance of all 24 Caprices, given
at the beautiful Reggio Emilia Teatro in Italy. Each Caprice addresses
certain technical difficulties that the player must overcome. The challenge
for anyone who plays them, especially in public, is to make them seem
effortless and played with a sense of abandon and “diablerie.” As a
performer, Paganini has inspired everyone from Liszt to Malmsteen. In fact,
Paganini was thought by many to have been in league with the Devil!
Alexander Markov definitely meets this challenge in spades. He throws
caution to the wind, with generally spectacular results.

I feel that this approach is necessary. Although they are “showy” from
a technical standpoint, these Caprices are not “great” music. However,
they ARE effective showpieces in the hands of right player, which
Alexander Markov has undoubtedly proven himself to be. To hold the
interest of non-string instrumentalists and others, these pieces need special
“pleading” from the performer. Personally, I’m glad to have heard them
all again, especially with the added benefit of the visual element.
I’d probably only heard all of them once before, many years ago.

Speaking of the “visual element,” Bruno Monsaingeon directs his
camera crew to pull out all of the stops, in his effort to make this
performance an interesting experience. His creative uses of double
exposure, multi-angle shots and other techniques often bordering
on psychedelia are brought to play, with fine results.

The recorded sound is excellent. “Alexander Markov: Paganini’s 24
Caprices,” is a 2006 re-release on the KULTUR label, and particularly
needs to be seen by violinists and other string players. Bruno
Monsaingeon is also a concert violinist, making his aforementioned
printed notes an essential bonus feature.

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