Let us switch our imagination on: for a moment, we have no more internet, TV, cell phones. No technology. In this new and unexpected world – which is, like our own, imbued with uncertainty, wars, suffering – a few men with an impressive mediatic power stand up like as many Titans; they are stars worshipped everywhere, first actors who have entire theaters at their feet, genius-like demigods. Their hands are not holding a microphone, but rather a musical instrument: a violin. Without the transcriptions, paraphrases and fantasies which we can listen to on this CD, we could even think that such legendary virtuosos have never existed in reality. In the absence of the technology which makes spectacular aural journeys possible today, the aura of mystery and of legend surrounding the artists to whom this homage is dedicated was increased: what would we give to hear Paganini play live! How intensely would we have waited, during the cantabile which opens I palpiti op. 13, for the new variations and the unexpected springs which decorate Rossini’s airy melody! And this is but one example.
Well, if we want to fully understand this extraordinary nineteenth-century phenomenon, we must go beyond the operas which have inspired these sparkling interpretations. How can we do this? Easy. Let us forget about William Tell’s adventures, about the love affairs of Verdi’s characters, or the themes from the master pieces by the most famous composers of the musical theatre; let us take advantage of this unique occasion.
The philosophy of this recording is the best gift for the listener who is hungry for scales, arpeggios, bravura passages; the best gift for the expert music-lover who would be the first to shout “Bravo”, intoxicated by the extremely quick piqué which pours forth from the creativity of a Sarasate or an Ysaÿe. But there is still more. A special trepidation fills our hearts – as happened in the nineteenth century – when a performer/composer infuses life into a page of music by making it “his own”. Let me explain this better. In Bazzini’s op. 17 (“Casta Diva”) we hear only a faint echo of Bellini’s masterful invention; the pleasure lies in discovering, note after note, the very special colour which is assigned to each passage. In his op. 50 (“Traviata”) let us forget about Verdi: we are led to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the Brescia-born violinist, who, while getting back home from the premiere, is freely reliving the opera’s main moments, adorning and celebrating them with a majestic final arpeggio. And this is but the beginning. If we continue with Verdi’s music, we may appreciate Sivori’s histrionic style, both in his op. 20 (“Trovatore”) and in his op. 19 (“Ballo in Maschera”): these are true fireworks!
Even the works which are not normally considered as milestone of the operatic repertoire are changed into exhilarating and captivating fantasies: we hang off the composer’s… fingers, so to speak, as he seems to be instantaneously inspired to improvise on the main themes under our very eyes.
After Paganini, Bazzini and Sivori, other seldom-recorded pieces enrich the already full carnet of this CD: among them, Bériot’s Fantasy on William Tell, Vieuxtemps’ Fantasy on Verdi’s “I Lombardi” and Ernst’s sumptuous Fantasy on Rossini’s “Otello”.
Therefore, the collection proposed by the Baldini duo, composed by a father and a son, is an exceedingly enjoyable one: let us take an armchair, a healthy silence, and our ears, thirsting for the surprises which will come from the extreme creativity of these demigods in this instrument’s history. Let us close the books of harmony, the manuals of compositions, the treatises of music history and the summaries of the operas’ plots. At our disposal we have not just twelve recorded tracks, but rather twelve worlds, twelve universes, twelve books which we can devour within a few minutes. What are you still waiting for?
Album Notes by Giovanni Baldini
Translation by Chiara Bertoglio
Lorenzo Baldini was born in Trieste, Italy, where he started to study music and where he degreed (both piano and harpsichord) at Conservatorio “G. Tartini”. He garnered prizes from many competitions and he continued to study piano at the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome, where he was a protegé of the famous Italian pianist Carlo Zecchi. There he studied also Chamber Music with the renowned Italian cellist Enrico Mainardi. He performed as soloist and as recitalist with his son Emmanuele Baldini - Concertmaster at OSESP, Brazil – in various countries, including Europe, Australia, South America, etc. He released many Chamber Music recordings, and he dedicated himself to the piano teaching in his hometown Conservatory and doing Masterclasses in Italy, Germany and Brazil.
Emmanuele Baldini was born in Trieste, Italy, surrounded by music: his father, Lorenzo Baldini, is an important pianist and italian pedagogue. After studies in his hometown with Bruno Polli, he furthered his violin training in Geneva with Corrado Romano, in Salzburg and Berlin with Ruggiero Ricci, and recently studied conducting with Isaac Karabtchevsky and Frank Shipway. From an early age, Baldini garnered prizes from countless international solo and chamber music competitions, including the “Premier Prix de Virtuosité avec distinction” in Geneva and the “Forum Junger Künstler” in Wien. Baldini has performed as soloist or recitalist across the globe in all the major concert halls. His inexhaustible curiosity and passion for music has broadened his horizons, and after a commendable career as violinist (with more than 15 recordings to his name, nearly 40 different violin concertos and all of the major violin sonatas in his repertoire), he has embarked on new musical ventures as a conductor, he founded the OSESP Quartet, he has intensified his teaching activities. Baldini’s musical collaborations include internationally renowned artists, such as Maria-João Pires, Jean-Philippe Collard, Antonio Meneses, Caio Pagano, Ricardo Castro, Nicholas Angelich. Maestro Claudio Abbado wrote in a letter to London’s “Harold Holt”: “I am impressed by both his deep musicality and technical level.” He has been concertmaster of the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, Orchestra del Teatro “Giuseppe Verdi” di Trieste, and since 2005 has been concertmaster of the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo (OSESP), Brazil.
Antonio Bazzini (b Brescia, 11 March 1818; d Milan, 10 Feb 1897). Italian violinist, composer and teacher. He was a pupil of a Brescian violinist, Faustino Camisani (Camesani); encouraged by Paganini, he began his concert career at an early age and became one of the most highly regarded artists of his time. From 1841 to 1845 he lived in Germany, where he was much admired by Schumann both as a violinist and a composer, as well as by Mendelssohn (Bazzini gave the first private performance of his Violin Concerto). After a short stay in Denmark he returned to Brescia to teach and compose. In 1846 he played in Naples and Palermo. In 1849–50 he toured Spain and from 1852 to 1863 lived in Paris. He ended his concert career with a tour of the Netherlands in 1864. Returning once more to Brescia, he devoted himself to composition, gradually abandoning the virtuoso opera fantasias and character-pieces (such as the well-known La ronde des lutins, Elégie and Le muletier), which had formed a large part of his earlier work. He attempted an opera (Turanda, 1867), dramatic cantatas, sacred music, concert overtures and symphonic poems, as well as chamber music, the genre in which he achieved his greatest success. Written in the classic forms of the German school Bazzini's chamber works earned him a central place in the Italian instrumental renaissance of the 19th century. In 1868 he became president of the Società dei Concerti in Brescia, and was active in promoting and composing for quartet societies in Italy. In 1873 he became composition professor at the Milan Conservatory and in 1882 its director. Among his pupils there were Catalani, Mascagni and Puccini.
(b Genoa, 25 Oct 1815; d Genoa, 19 Feb 1894). Italian violinist and composer. A child prodigy, he received his first lessons from Restano, then studied violin with Paganini’s former teacher Giacomo Costa, maestro di cappella at the cathedral of S Lorenzo, who encouraged Sivori to perform in religious services. Between October 1822 and May 1823 Paganini was in Genoa, and, favourably struck by the young violinist, decided to give him lessons. Their relationship was brief but intense, and Paganini regarded Sivori as the only pupil for whose formation he was responsible (‘the only person who can call himself my pupil’, he wrote in 1828). He composed various pieces for him (a concertino, 12 cantabili e valtz, 6 cantabili and a sonata con variazioni), which were performed privately, with Paganni himself accompanying on the guitar. After leaving Genoa he continued to follow Sivori’s development, having entrusted him to his disciple Agostino Dellepiane for further study, and before he died, he gave him a violin, a copy of his favourite Guarneri del Gesù, made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. Sivori quickly set out to emulate Paganini’s artistic achievements. He adopted the same unusual playing position, and favoured the same notion of the miraculous, which involved imitation and extravagant and rhetorical elements, often misunderstood by classicists such as Wasielewski and Moser. His virtuoso repertory was based principally on his own compositions and those of Paganini, but unlike his teacher, Sivori also became an exceptional performer of Classical and early Romantic chamber music. Sivori’s first important success was his concert of 27 April 1827 at the Teatro di Corte in Genoa. Immediately after this, he set off on a journey across Europe with Dellepiane. In London he performed alongside Giuditta Pasta at Her Majesty’s Theatre and at the Argyll Rooms, while in Paris, where he met Rossini, Cherubini, Baillot and Paer, he played at the Salle des Menus-Plaisirs and the Salle Chantereine with the young Liszt. On returning to Italy he played at the Teatro Re in Milan, and in Turin. Between 1829 and 1839 he studied counterpoint with Giovanni Serra, a renowned Genoese teacher, who introduced him to chamber music (and dedicated his Quartet no.4 to Sivori). In 1834 he made his quartet début in London. From 1836 to 1840 he was leader of the orchestra of the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, where he gave regular recitals, and taught at the Istituto di Musica, taking over from Dellepiane. Between 1839 and 1840 he played all over Italy. A stylish composer, who displayed a lovely melodic vein, Sivori composed around 60 pieces, some published at the time and others kept by his heirs. They include two violin concertos which await modern performance, numerous fantasies on operatic themes in the form of theme and variations where virtuosity and melodiousness are cleverly alternated, descriptive pieces, where the programme has a narrative content (the famous imitations), and shorter, simpler pieces with a broadly melodic element. The 12 études-caprices op.25 are outstanding pieces in which the great Paganinian model is reconsidered in a personal way.
Charles-Auguste de Bériot (b Leuven, 20 Feb 1802; d Brussels, 8 April 1870). Belgian violinist and composer. He studied with J.-F. Tiby, and later with André Robberechts. In 1821 he travelled to Paris and played for Viotti, who encouraged him with these words: ‘You have a fine style; endeavour to perfect it. Hear all men of talent – profit by all but imitate no one.’ Unable to obtain lessons from Viotti, who was then director of the Paris Opéra, Bériot turned to Baillot. For a few months he attended Baillot’s violin class at the Paris Conservatoire but could not submit to the academic discipline. It is known that Baillot disliked the technical ‘eccentricities’ which were characteristic of Bériot’s style. Shortly afterwards, Bériot made a highly successful début in Paris, meeting with equal acclaim in London, where he played his own Concertino at the Philharmonic Society on 1 May 1826. After his return to Brussels, he was named solo violinist to King William I of the Netherlands at a salary of 2000 guilder, but the appointment was terminated by the revolution of 1830. In 1829 Bériot met the famous singer Maria Malibran. For the next six years they travelled together, giving joint concerts in Belgium, England, France and Italy. This liaison led to their marriage on 29 March 1836. Less than six months later, Maria died unexpectedly in Manchester, shortly after appearing at a concert. The grief-stricken Bériot returned to Brussels and temporarily left the concert platform. He resumed his career in 1838 when he undertook a concert tour to Austria and Italy with the singer Pauline Garcia, the younger sister of his late wife. Spohr heard one of their concerts in Karlsbad and praised Bériot’s playing, although he disliked his compositions. In 1840, while playing again in Vienna, Bériot married Marie Huber, the daughter of an Austrian magistrate. That year he played in Russia. In 1842 he was offered a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire as successor to Baillot. However, he declined, preferring to accept an appointment to the Brussels Conservatory. Here he served as head of the violin faculty from 1843 to 1852, when he was forced to retire because of failing eyesight. He became totally blind in 1858 but continued to be active as an author. Bériot occupies an important place in the history of violin playing. He adapted the technical brilliance of Paganini to the elegance and piquancy of the Parisian style. Thus he modernized the classical French school, established by Viotti and perpetuated at the Conservatoire by Rode, Kreutzer and Baillot. Not being a true disciple of that school, Bériot was able to break the stranglehold of tradition and developed a new, essentially Romantic, approach, known as the Franco-Belgian School. Much of Bériot’s technique – harmonics, left-hand pizzicato, ricochet, even scordatura – was influenced by Paganini; this is particularly evident in Bériot’s Second Violin Concerto, first played by the composer in London in 1835. On the other hand, Bériot’s characteristic style of sweetness and elegance was already formed in the 1820s, before he met Paganini, as can be seen in his early Airs variés and the First Violin Concerto. Bériot’s success was not based merely on technical brilliance; he could play with such melting warmth as to make Heine exclaim, ‘It seems as if the soul of his late wife sings through his violin.’ As a composer, Bériot aimed at effect rather than depth; his melodies are sweet and sentimental, his technical display is ingenious and sparkling though basically less difficult than that of Paganini. His concertos and shorter pieces were widely popular in their time; today they are used mainly for study purposes. The elegance and elfin grace of Bériot helped initiate a new approach to the violin, and reflections of his style can be found in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto. He was a methodical teacher and left several useful instruction books (Méthode de violon, 1858; Ecole transcendante de violon, 1867). His most famous pupil was Henry Vieuxtemps.
Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (b Brno, 6 May 1814; d Nice, 8 Oct 1865). Moravian violinist and composer. He played in public when he was nine, and in October 1825 entered the Vienna Conservatory, where he studied the violin with Joseph Boehm and composition with Seyfried. Paganini's appearance in Vienna in 1828 made a profound impression on him, and in 1829 he began following Paganini on tour, playing several of his unpublished works by ear with a degree of fidelity that amazed the composer. After a début in Paris (1831) he withdrew from concert life for three years of further study. In 1837 he and Paganini appeared together in Marseilles, after which Ernst wrote in a letter, ‘The consensus of opinion was that I play with more sentiment, while he conquers more difficulties’. Travels through Europe and Russia followed, bringing him acclaim as one of the outstanding violinists of his time. His most enduring success came in London, where he was first heard on 18 July 1843 in the Hanover Square Rooms; the Musical World described him as the most accomplished living violinist (his immediate rivals were Sivori and Vieuxtemps). He became a regular visitor to London and settled there in 1855. In 1859 he appeared as leader of the Beethoven Society string quartet with Joachim, Wieniawski and Piatti. During his last years illness prevented him from giving performances in public. Among Paganini's successors, Ernst alone reached (and occasionally even surpassed) his technical wizardry; despite his moodiness and unevenness as a performer, he was also a master of the French classical style of playing. Contemporary critics stressed his soulful, touching cantilena: Berlioz, under whose baton he played Harold en Italie in Brussels (1842), Vienna (1846), Moscow, St Petersburg and Riga (1847) and London (1855), called him a great musician as well as a great violinist. Joachim declared that ‘Ernst was the greatest violinist I have ever heard; he towered above all others’, and Mendelssohn showed his admiration by accompanying him on several occasions. As a composer Ernst had true Romantic élan, exemplified in his Concerto pathétique op.23 or the famous Elégie op.10; his compositions represent the pinnacle of violin technique, and such works for unaccompanied violin as the Six Polyphonic Studies and the arrangement of Schubert's Erlkönig show his imagination and ingenuity. He maintained good taste even in his most virtuoso pieces (e.g. the Airs hongrois variés op.22 and the fantasia on Rossini's Otello op.11); his Carnaval de Venise op.18 is not so much an imitation of Paganini as a clever set of original variations based on the same tune.
Niccolò Paganini: (b Genoa, 27 Oct 1782; d Nice, 27 May 1840). Italian violinist and composer. By his development of technique, his exceptional skills and his extreme personal magnetism he not only contributed to the history of the violin as its most famous virtuoso but also drew the attention of other Romantic composers, notably Liszt, to the significance of virtuosity as an element in art. As a composer of a large number of chamber works, mostly with or for guitar, Paganini was influential in furthering the performance and appreciation of music in private circles.