The 24 Solo Violin Caprices of Paganini require little in the way of introduction, and purists out there will likely contend that they need little in the way of tampering, either. Hold on to your hats, then, for this Nimbus Alliance disc featuring the Wihan Quartet performing William Zinn's arrangement of the caprices for string quartet. What is a pyrotechnical marvel to witness on a single instrument quickly becomes less interesting and compelling when the duties are spread among four musicians. While the album's liner notes assert that one of the reasons for such an arrangement is to spread the virtuosic elements around so listeners can more carefully focus on them. This is rarely achieved, however, as the violin is still responsible for the bulk of the work and the poor cello and viola are left to sit and count rests. Zinn also brings out his interpretation of the caprices' implied harmonies, which sometimes drastically change the feel of the score. Apart from the arrangement itself, there is still the performance to deal with. Solo violinists are subjected to extreme scrutiny when performing these works, with high expectations for technical accuracy, intonation, and pyrotechnic bravura. The Wihan Quartet does not always live up to these expectations. Intonation is spotty, tempos are often much slower (and therefore less dazzling) than most solo violinists, and technical considerations are less impressive considering each member of the quartet (save for the first violin) doesn't have all that much to do. Listeners are left with a recording of a moderately interesting exercise in arranging, certainly not an album worth running out for to add to a collection.
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AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell