Classical home listening: Vaughan Williams, Paganini and Ysaÿe

The LSO and Pappano fire on all cylinders in RVW’s war-straddling Symphonies 4 and 6. And Alina Ibragimova’s Paganini Caprices astound

• Coinciding with Antonio Pappano’s appointment as its new chief conductor, the London Symphony Orchestra has released a covetable recording of works by Vaughan Williams: his Symphonies Nos 4 and 6 (LSO Live). The Fourth (1935), in F minor, singular in its ferocity, opens with fortissimo dissonance, strings clawing upwards over grinding brass and ominous kettle drums. In its restless energy, and in the shading of its reflective interludes, this performance is alive with risk, the sound clean and detailed.

The Sixth (1948), in E minor, with its ebb and flow from roaring torment to hushed anguish, seems embedded in the times it was written, despite RVW pleading to let his music speak for itself. Take a look at Paul Nash’s painting Totes Meer (1941) then go back and listen to the parched, barren Epilogue of No 6, as remarkable as anything the composer wrote. Recorded live at the Barbican on 15 March 2020, the LSO’s account has its own temporal intensity.

• There was nothing, not a single aspect, you could call ordinary about Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840), composer and violinist extraordinaire. With his scrawny frame, long, lank hair and, according to eyewitnesses, convulsive laugh, he presented himself as a maniacal showman who traded his soul with the devil if not worse. His 24 Caprices, Op 1, fiendishly difficult works for solo violin, have been newly recorded by Alina Ibragimova (2 CDs, Hyperion), who manages virtuosic wizardry without any of the additional peculiarities offered by Paganini.

Watch a mini-trailer for Paganini’s 24 Caprices by Alina Ibragimova.

Her facility, speed and precision, breathtaking throughout, never loses sight of musicality. Listening to these short works in one sitting can feel like an overlong firework display. Not here. Ibragimova infuses them with addictive variety, grace and insouciance. She obviously has 20 fingers.

As companion listening, try the Six Sonatas for Solo Violin by Eugène Ysaÿe, either in Ibragimova’s outstanding 2015 recording or the new disc by the Canadian violinist Kerson Leong for Alpha: dazzling and dexterous.

• Let’s hear it for the UK’s ensembles, a Radio 3 focus this week. Highlights: Sarah Connolly sings Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été with the Royal Northern Sinfonia (Thursday), and Eric Lu is soloist with the BBC Philharmonic for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27, K595 (Friday), both on Radio 3 in Concert, 7.30pm.

Contributor

Fiona Maddocks

The GuardianTramp

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