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William Yeoman
Gramophone, April 2010

Entertaining music for violin and guitar in exciting, imaginative performances

Pekka Kuusisto and Ismo Eskelinen’s argument seems to be that although Paganini’s violin-and-guitar music (the majority of 200 extant works featuring the latter instrument—some are for solo guitar) is both intimate and comparatively restrained, the composer himself wouldn’t have held anything back in the execution. For these are exciting, imaginative performances, full of wit and character and probably better than the music deserves.

Paganini started out on the mandolin before taking up the violin and guitar, so he knew a thing or two about plucked strings, and while there’s not much here to tax as fine a player as Eskelinen, he manages to bring lots of colour to the largely chordal (arpeggiated or no) guitar accompaniments. Only in the opening Sonata concertata in A major is there more interest in the guitar part; as a result, this is also one of the most musically satisfying pieces on the disc.

Kuusisto is one of today’s more interesting young violinists, his repertoire extending into the jazz, folk and electronica fields. He is also a skilled improviser. All of this seems to feed into his classical music-making by allowing an extra sense of freedom and even irreverence. From the stylistically appropriate yet subtly ironic portamenti of the beautiful Cantabile in D to the arrogance with which the rapid pizzicati of the E minor Sonata’s second movement are dashed off, Kuusisto is cheeky, bold and unfailingly musical. Both he and Eskelinen also favour a crisp attack and lots of tonal variation; this can sometimes sound mannered but it’s a small price to pay for such sterling entertainment.

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