Julian Haylock
BBC Music Magazine
July 2021

Hyperion’s typically first-rate production includes an invaluable list of the caprices’ various dedicatees, which turn out to embrace several of Paganini’s violin rivals, including Vieuxtemps, Ernst, Kreutzer and Bazzini. Alina Ibragimova turns the performing tradition associated with these finger-crippling miniatures on its head by focusing on their ‘demonic’ aspect. Rather than despatching each caprice at a steadily maintained tempo with technical fluency the name of the game, she goes behind the notes to reveal a composer fully in touch with, and in many cases innovating the spectral extravagances of the era.

Like a procession of commedia dell’arte characters, Ibragimova creates the same kind of interpretative delirium that inspired poet Heinrich Rellstab to marvel ‘he is the incarnation of desire, scorn, madness and burning pain,’ when he first heard Paganini play. Ibragimova imbues each caprice with its own unique musical personality and expressive narrative, with the result that all those thousands of notes emerge with an emotional rather than merely technical imperative.

From the start, Ibragimova captures the playful insanity that lies at the heart of No 1, with its crazed ricochet arpeggiations. Rather than articulating the notes with machine-gun precision, she flutters over the strings like a supercharged butterfly. In the famous variations finale, it feels as though the musical characters have come back for a final bow. Additionally, in the notorious quick-fire semiquavers of No 5, she removes the separate-bow safety net and revels in Paganini’s irregular, thrown-bow groupings. Inimitable, unforgettable and cherishable.