Musical Pointers

Peter Sheppard Skaerved has, somewhat belatedly, made the first complete recording of the Caprice Variations by George Rochberg (b.1918), in their original version for solo violin. Composed in 1970, they can be thought of as a ‘short history of music’, taking the most famous of Paganini’s Caprices through its paces in styles of composers through the ages; Brahms especially important for Rochberg, who included his own transcriptions of five Brahms piano variations (Op.35, Books 1 & 2) on the same Paganini theme. Others are ‘after’ Beethoven Schubert and Webern, and there are numerous newly created character pieces.

Peter Sheppard Skaerved plays all 51 straight through, which makes for a long haul, needing a second CD to complete the project. He uses a Strad which belongs to the Royal Academy of Music, but I found that the close recording did not flatter the instrument.

The variations are better taken in shorter groups; the journey is an impressive one, and should certainly be explored by advanced violinists. some variations do appear to stretch the technique of even this admired and uncommonly versatile violinist, whose enterprising work with string quartet and a contemporary music ensemble based in Germany has earned my appreciation over the years; most recently the launch of a new Beethoven Explored series for Metier.

… some of the Variations seem rather hard going, with patches of slightly suspect intonation. Nonetheless, I have no hesitation in recommending it to advanced student violinists, and to those general listeners (not everyone) who enjoy unaccompanied violin playing at length.

—Peter Grahame Woolf