Paganini’s virtuosity was the wellspring for the cult of the instrumentalist as hero, and he inspired Liszt, among many others, both as performer and composer. His first violin concerto is fearsomely difficult (no surprises there!) – there is rapid double and triple-stopping, passages in stopped harmonics and other pitfalls for the faint-hearted. It’s written on a mighty canvas, by someone who knew his Beethoven as well as he knew his Bellini and Rossini: the first movement alone is 20 minutes.
The operatic nature of the piece makes it challenging for the conductor too, and the husband-and-wife team of Dego and Rustioni are in control from the first bar. This is elegant, assured music-making, if not the last word in excitement. For that you need an earlier DG recording with Salvatore Accardo and Charles Dutoit.
If you know Wolf-Ferrari it will be through excerpts from his operas, including The Jewels of the Madonna and Susanna’s Secret. Any doubts about his conservatism are swept aside by his violin concerto, which sounds as if he composed it in 1894: he wrote it 50 years after that. It’s not a revelatory discovery, but it is charming, and Dego, Rustioni and the Birmingham orchestra are persuasive. The English booklet note needed a more attentive translation: at one point it says Wolf-Ferrari’s concerto is “enriched by spirals that take flight towards the ending,” which I must admit is something I would like to see one day.