Official Release: 10 December 2021
the birth of a cd
It was in 2018 when Ksenia took the decision to record the 24 Capricci by Paganini together with the 4 Studi discovered by Danilo Prefumo and, after investigating their history, philology, compositive pattern, lyric-harmonic and executive features, after having performed all the 24 Capricci in various recitals. Her studies brought her to consider each Capriccio for its own specific compositive and executive characteristics, connecting at the same time one Capriccio to the other: that’s why she performs them in an innovative sequence whose purpose is to emphasize the stylistic and harmonic similarities which reveal the composer’s personality in his research of sonorities linked to the technical virtuosity and the sound effects of the instrument.
The recording took place on September the 21st 2021 in Genoa, in the Paganinian Violins Room of Palazzo Tursi, with Ksenia playing one of Paganini’s violins, the “Sivori”, after long talks with the Local Authority lasted one year – these instruments are part of the artistic Italian heritage subject to protection – at the presence of the luthier Alberto Giordano, the Museum Curator Raffaella Besta and the Local Police. Astonishingly, the recording session took place in one single day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
With intense attention, Ksenia followed all the steps taken by the luthier in opening the violin’s glass-case, cleaning and tuning it, then he handed the violin over to her and she took it into her hands, with clear and strong emotion while starting to play it. She was calm, serene and very focused, the tension of the previous days seemed to have faded away. She took off her shoes and stepped on the wooden floor of the room with her socks on so as to prevent the classic creaking of antique floors. Her slender body outshined the room while her petite fingers moved with skill on the “Sivori”, as if it had been hers and she had always been playing it.
When we handed the recorded files over to the sound engineer Michael Seberich, he almost couldn’t believe that she had recorded all this huge and hard work in one single day, and he verified the dates and times of the files. Ksenia had, once more, decided to use the first recordings, without cuts, as in a live recital. ‘Good first take’!
This CD, “24+”, is meant as a Russian violinist’s homage to Paganini and his home town Genoa. His op. 1 is considered to be the most brilliant and famous composition in violin history; through his challenge “Alli Artisti”, he succeeded in arousing and exalting the imagination of the most renown composers of the following centuries, but also the strength and the persistence of those few violinists who have tried out these grand and demanding compositions. Ksenia says: “My favourite Capriccio is the No. 4, as, more than all, it conveys the lyric and romantic personality of the composer, beside being the most difficult.”
Two anniversaries should have been celebrated in 2020: the 180 years from Paganini’s death and the 200 years from the publication of his masterpiece, the Capricci op.1. Unfortunately, all of this has been postponed but “I am very happy and proud for managing to honour him with this CD, even if one year late”, Ksenia says.
Carla Bonfichi © 2021
In the 24 Capricci for solo violin op. 1, Paganini has implemented a perfect merger between an overwhelming technical and instrumental imagination and a genuine musical inspiration. In this indissoluble unity of musical and instrumental suggestions, the Capricci treasure the deepest motivations for their own charm. To the eighteenth-century capriccio-studio tradition, Paganini has added phantasmagoric elements influenced by the Baroque style, exorbitant extravagances widely taken from the neoclassical aesthetics and from the most measured examples of his predecessors. The Capricci of the Genoan musician do not retain anything more of the progressive introduction to the arduous instrumental difficulties, but they, rather, take on the form of a challenge thrown down “Alli Artisti”. The Capricci musical aspect is always in the foreground and highlighted, whether it is in the slow introduction of No. 4, which, to Schumann, reminded the Funeral March in Heroic Symphony by Beethoven, or in the strong Posato of the Seventh, or in the Andante of the highly polyphonic Eleventh, or in the pastoral Allegretto – hurdy-gurdy-like – of the Twentieth. From the first to the last they all show a substantial uniformity as regards the difficulty and the playing technique which are always assumed as already acquired and fully possessed.
Moreover Paganini does not limit himself to examine one single playing theme in every single piece as usually happens in a Studio: every Capriccio actually features a continuous variety of different types of obstacles to face and overcome. In the inscription “Alli Artisti” is the very reason of being of these 24 compositions. A raison d’étre that violinists often forget, limiting themselves to perform as if they were mere and simple virtuosity scores, using unreliable editions too. On the contrary, Ksenia Milas clearly keeps in mind all these aspects during her performances, where she always combines a deep respect for the scores with a stylistic consciousness which are difficult to find in a young soloist.
Danilo Prefumo © 2021
A project by Milas
Nicolò Paganini’s 24 Capricci per Violino solo, Composti e Dedicati “Alli Artisti”, Op. 1, are the New Testament of the violinist’s bible – the Old Testament, of course, comprises Bach’s set of six solo Sonatas and Partitas. No less an authority than Nathan Milstein used to couple the names of Bach and Paganini, saying that they wrote the best solo music for the violin.
This recording acquires added interest because Ksenia Milas offers us four extra Paganini solos, written in the same vein as the Caprices. She has been playing all 24 Caprices regularly in recital and has evolved her own sequence.
One of the great challenges of musical performance is for a violinist, armed only with a frail construction of wood and strings, to take the stage without the comforting presence of a piano accompanist and win over an audience. It was Joseph Joachim who first attempted solo Bach evenings, and his example was followed by Adolf Busch and Joseph Szigeti; but Busch, who loved playing Paganini Caprices in private – even on the viola – arranged five of them for performing in public with piano. Kreisler, Auer and Szymanowski were others who fitted accompaniments to Caprices – Auer even inserted a variation for the piano into No. 24 – and both Ferdinand David and Robert Schumann did the whole sequence. Only after World War II did such violinists as Ruggiero Ricci and Leonid Kogan essay all 24 Caprices in a single recital without a pianist.
Paganini was so secretive about his music-making and his compositions, going to extreme lengths to avoid being seen practising and guarding his scores from prying eyes, that we know very little about the background of his Caprices. As a teenager he was impressed by Pietro Locatelli’s L’arte del violino, which included 24 solo Capricci, and this precedent fed into his own set – he quoted Locatelli’s Seventh Capriccio in his First Caprice. It is possible that when Giovanni Ricordi offered to publish the Caprices in 1817, many existed only as essercisi, with which Paganini had been tinkering for some time (a century later, Paul Hindemith would similarly incorporate private études into his great Sonata for solo viola, Op. 25 No. 1). The fact that Paganini seems never to have played the Caprices in public lends credence to the view that they had their roots in exercises. Some may have dated back as far as 1801 and it is thought that the whole set may have been completed by 1807, at least in an early form. What is inescapable is that the fair copy Paganini submitted in November 1817 represented a major event in the development of violin playing. He dedicated these pieces, which summed up what he had learnt in decades of experimentation, “to the Artists”; but during the 1830s he wrote the names of 24 dedicatees – not all of them violinists – into his own score.
Whereas in some of his works for the violin Paganini exploited his skill in harmonics, left-hand pizzicato and playing on the G string alone, in the Caprices he slightly limited his demands on his fellow players. But his dedication of Op. 1 ‘To the artists’ did not mean that he spared them much suffering: they were faced with fusillades of bounced-bow effects such as spiccato, staccato, saltato, staccato volante and ricochet, extravagant intervals – thirds, sixths, octaves and tenths – double, triple and quadruple stops, and so on. Paganini does not run the gamut of the 24 keys, as Bach does in The Well-Tempered Clavier and Chopin in the Preludes: he has three Caprices in A minor and five in E flat. He lays down a marker with the very first Caprice, with its nod to Locatelli: thus Paganini is at the same time prolonging a tradition and sending it off into the stratosphere.
Nicolò Paganini was born in Genoa on 27 October 1782: his mother Teresa always said that at his birth, an angel told her that her son would be the greatest violinist the world had known. His first teacher was his bullying father Antonio, a dockworker. His health was delicate, as it was to be all his life, but a spark had been lit which, allied to his natural talent, would sustain him through the usual artist’s setbacks. His next tutor, the theatre violinist Antonio Servetto, passed him on to the maestro di cappella at the Cathedral, Giacomo Costa, who in turn brought him to the attention of opera composer Francesco Gnecco. His mentors saw that he was properly educated and made fit to move in society. In 1793 he appeared twice in public with two well-known singers and found his first patron, the Marchese Di Negro. A spur to his efforts was hearing the Polish violin virtuoso August Duranowski, a pupil of Viotti, in 1794. He travelled with his father to Parma, where he probably had some lessons from the violinist, violist, conductor and composer Alessandro Rolla and certainly studied composition with Gasparo Ghiretti and Ferdinando Paër. He was greatly encouraged by positive comments from Rodolphe Kreutzer. At 15 he toured North Italy and at 18 he moved to Lucca, where he eventually became court violinist. During this period he experimented with new techniques, developing the ideas which fed into the Caprices. He had his violin fitted with a flatter bridge than usual, to facilitate playing on three or four strings at once; and he used thinner strings, which made for greater brilliance and higher harmonics – an inveterate showman, he even exploited the fact that they broke more easily. If a string snapped, he could amaze his audience by carrying on playing as though nothing had happened. From 1809 he toured as a virtuoso and his first brief European tour in 1828 was a sensation. In the late 1830s he wound down his activities and he died at Nice in 1840.
Mostly in binary or ternary form, the Caprices are much more than études. Whereas in a set of études, each piece is customarily designed to deal with a single problem, Paganini often throws in three or four types of challenge. And his Caprices are excellent music. As with all his compositions, they have their roots in the bel canto operas of the ‘Ottocento’, especially Rossini’s: at their heart is a lyrical cantilena, even if it is sometimes almost hidden under the most fiendish difficulties, and many Caprices demand a parlando or ‘speaking’ tone – the song-like No. 21, marked Amoroso, is an example. Most are character pieces and the best players can create narratives out of them to hold the audience’s attention. We know that Paganini did use scenes and stories to trigger his imagination: the Adagio of his D major Concerto, for instance, is dramatically operatic, depicting the prayer of a prisoner in his dungeon cell. The central section of Caprice No. 20 imitates bagpipes. No. 14 is a march evoking brass instruments.
A few Caprices have acquired nicknames: No. 9, a rondo, is ‘La chasse’ owing to its hunting horn calls on the lower strings – the violinist also has to imitate flutes on the higher strings. No. 1 is ‘The Arpeggio’ and No. 6, aimed at strengthening the left hand, ‘The Trill’. Ksenia Milas opens her sequence with Caprice No. 13, ‘The Devil’s Laugh’, so called because of the laughter at the start of the outer sections: her interpretation alternates between delicacy and louder, more devilish guffaws. The pieces bristle with challenges: double, triple and quadruple stops, staccato volante (flying staccato), spiccato, saltato, ricochet, double trills (in octaves in No. 3), thirds, sixths, octaves, tenths, even a thirteenth stretch in No. 3. No. 2 and No. 12 are just two of those that test the precision of the player’s bow arm, No. 12 also calling for a command of twelfths. The outer sections of No. 18 are in the dance form of a Corrente and must be played on the G-string, as must the central section of No. 19. The best- known Caprice is No. 24, a set of 11 variations with coda on a memorable theme which has been ‘borrowed’ by many other composers, including Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Blacher and Lutosławski. It is the only Caprice to employ one of Paganini’s most celebrated inventions, left-hand pizzicato, which comes in Variation 9: the entire piece is a severe test for the left hand.
The four newly discovered Studies, which have been edited by Danilo Prefumo, may well have been written for a pupil, perhaps more than one pupil. They all stem from a single manuscript, not in Paganini’s hand. Although they are not quite on the inspirational level of the Caprices, they display many characteristic Paganinian touches and are not disgraced by being performed alongside the Caprices. No. 1 in C, in 6/8, is a study in thirds in four sections – Professor Prefumo draws attention to a kinship between the second section and Caprice No. 20, and between the third section and Le Streghe. This study has no tempo indication but the editor suggests Allegretto. Study No. 2 in A, in 2/2, marked Moderato, tests the player’s command of the high register and is quite dramatic, like an operatic scena. No. 3 in C, Moderato assai, is a study in arpeggios, like a vocal exercise – Prefumo finds a correlation with the technique of playing the guitar, another of Paganini’s instruments. Study No. 4, in G, with no tempo indication, starts with a call to attention and a chromatic scale; it is redolent of a folksong, with excursions into violin acrobatics.
Despite the way he was often depicted, Paganini did not have abnormal hands, as is shown by the surviving plaster casts. However, medical experts have speculated that specific ailments may have helped his playing, including Marfan’s syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Before the advent of recording, performances were written on air and water, and we can never know what he sounded like. Since World War II his music has been taken increasingly seriously and as more and more men and women have tried to play it as he wrote it, the Italianate fragrances of his artistic vision have been able to flower. The 24 Caprices are now rightly regarded as a fount of violinistic virtuosity.
In recording all 28 pieces in one day, as if in recital, Ksenia Milas is treading in the footsteps of some famous forebears. A special flavour is lent to the enterprise by her use of the ‘Sivori’ violin, which belonged to Paganini. Made by the celebrated French luthier Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume (1798-1875) in Paris in 1834, it is a faithful copy of Paganini’s famous Guarneri del Gesù, Il Cannone. The legendary violinist gave the beautifully fashioned instrument to his pupil Camillo Sivori but it reverted to Paganini’s heirs and was donated to the City of Genoa, where it still reposes in the Sala Paganiniana of the Palazzo Tursi, the venue for Milas’s recording. This is the first time Paganini’s Caprices have been recorded on one of his violins.
Tully Potter © 2021
Ksenia Milas is a Russian violinist who has been living in Italy for more than 10 years, and who has a constant performing activity in solo violin recitals and in concerts as a soloist with chamber ensembles and orchestras in Italy, Russia and all over the world. She works with various orchestra conductors and collaborates with several musicians in chamber ensembles.
Since 2010, she teaches at the International Academy in Imola and in 2020 she started teaching at the Fiesole Music School, where she passionately passes down the secrets of the Russian violin school’s technique to her numerous students.
In 2017 she recorded the six Sonatas for Solo Violin Op. 27 by Eugene Ysaÿe for Anima Record, a project supported by music critics Sandro Cappelletto and Tully Potter, who have written the CD booklet. In September 2020, at ‘Palazzo Tursi’ in Genoa, she records Paganini’s 24 Caprices op. 1 plus the 4 Studies, recently discovered by Prof. Danilo Prefumo, on the violin “Sivori”, belonged to Paganini. In 2021 she becomes official partner of the iClassical Academy recording a collection of video-lessons on the Six Sonatas by Ysaÿe, uploaded on the Musical Jewel Section.
After hearing her play, the Swedish composer Jonathan Östlund dedicated her a composition written in January 2018, “Paganini Fantasia, a new work dedicated to Ksenia Milas”, and from 1999 to 2007 she collaborated with the violinist Saveliy Shalman for the production of the movie lessons “I’ll be a violinist”.
She was admitted to the Maastricht Conservatoire at the age of 20 and graduated with honors in 2012 with M° Boris Belkin but, since she was a child, she has been attending masterclasses and advanced training lessons with internationally renowned Maestros.
Ksenia started winning competitions at an early age: she was only 9 years old when she won the International Violin Competition of Athens; at the age of 11 she won the first edition of the Competition “New Names” and the International Competition of the Youth Arts Assembly of Moscow; she was 12 when she was awarded the “High Virtuosity Prize” at Belarus International Festival; in 2006 she was conferred the Jury Prize at the International Competition “Tchaikovsky” of Izhevsk, Russia. At the age of 8, Ksenia debuted as a soloist with the State Philharmonic Orchestra of St. Petersburg. Kultura Magazine wrote: “Ksenia has enchanted the public not only for her charisma and astonishing virtuosity but also for her extraordinary talent and artistic sensibility.”
She started playing the violin when she was only 4 years old at the Music School of Volgograd (Russia); the following year she entered the “Rimsky-Korsakov” Conservatoire of Saint Petersburg where she was welcomed in the classes for talented pupils guided by the Maestro Savely Shalman.
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.