Music Voice

British violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved continues the recording project dedicated to “The Great Violins”, with works for solo violin and chamber that he performs on major historical violins of the past, beginning with those of the great Cremonese violin making school. Skærved dedicates the second volume to a legendary figure of violin playing, the Norwegian Ole Bull; known by the nickname of “Paganini of the North”, his fame, in the nineteenth century, was equal to that of Franz Liszt.

Besides being an extraordinary virtuoso (at thirteen he was already able to play perfectly the twenty-four Paganini Caprices), Ole Bull was also a composer, guitar maker and a merchant of musical instruments, a unique figure that the British violinist profiles with this recording (which also sees the accompaniment on some tracks of pianist Roderick Chadwick) of fifteen pieces. Skaerved is here exactly in the place of that same Bull, with one of the valuable tools used by the Norwegian artist, his extraordinary (and huge) Niccolò Amati made in 1647, together with the bow that Bull had made specifically for use with this instrument.

The sound is powerful, but also round and mellow and beautiful, this exceptional instrument that Ole Bull loved (he preferred the sound of Amati and Guarneri violins, but not that of Stradivari); the violin captures perfectly the masterpiece that is the Mozart Sonata in G major K. 301, which Skærved performs with energy and enthusiasm, just to highlight the powerful fare that can be produced with this instrument. But it is the rest of the program, similar to what Ole Bull usually presented in his musical soirées, which shows fully what this Amati is capable of. Listen to an ‘experimental’ song such as the short Quartet for Solo Violin or Fanitullen and you will be fascinated by a unique, fascinating, seductive timbre,) and as a tightrope walker of the four strings that the Norwegian artist was, he could exalt it to the fullest.

Let me be clear, Peter Sheppard Skærved is not far behind, as his technique and his musicality allow him to extract from the violin every nuance and harmonious phrase, without falling into a sterile virtuosity for its own sake. If anything, just the choice of these pieces makes us understand a fundamental aspect of the music and compositions of Ole Bull, and what can be learned of his violins and his playing techniques. And what can also be seen in his approach, which is not at all exaggerated, is the figure of Paganini; an extraordinary innovator and not just unparalleled virtuoso. This is a record that will please all those who love the violin.

Also the sound quality, the recording being made in two London churches, is of the highest workmanship and allows us clearly to hear to the best the stamp of dell’Amati and also the piano at no times covers the violin but is in good balance and one can highly praise the sound space and three-dimensional soundstage, as well as the tonal balance and detail.

—Andrea Bedetti