Marco Fornaciari (violin/viola/mandolin), Adriano Sebastiani (guitar)
Fone 2004–2009 (6 discs)

Stylistically speaking, Paganini remains remarkably consistent throughout the over 70 sonatas he wrote for violin and guitar: harmonically unadventurous (in the Italian opera style of the period) and melodically mellifluous (ditto). Probably the closest musical approximations are Rossini's delightful string sonatas.
Occasionally, as in some of the op.3 sonatas and (most notably) the Sonata Napoléon, things hot up decidedly. In the latter case there's a hair-raising display of G-string agility in which Marco Fornaciari shows his mettle as a first-rate technician, even if in the highest reaches at speed his intonation suffers slightly.
The fun really starts with the fifth disc, which features the irresistibly bubbly half-hour-long 60 Variations on 'Barucabà'. Here, Fornaciari's virtuoso command really takes some believing, as one technical stunt follows another at an often bewildering pace. Some tricks come off better than others, but listened through at one sitting this is something of a tour de force. No less impressive is the Duetto amoroso, with its delightful catalogue of musical seduction techniques, and a stunning performance of the E minor Concerto no.6 in which the violin, naturally enough, has to play the orchestral ritornelli as well as all the violinistic gymnastics.
Equally accomplished are the two sonatas in which the guitar plays a more major role and the sparkling mandolin miniatures – not forgetting Paganini's one surviving viola sonata (Sonata per la Gran'viola), which Fornaciari plays with hair-raising aplomb, particularly the bordering-on-the-impossible last movement variations (I doubt that many listeners will have heard a viola played quite like this before).
There's a very occasional suspicion of over-loading at high dynamic levels in the sonatas, a couple of patches of distortion in the Sonate di Lucca and the odd audible edit, but otherwise the 1990 and 1992 recordings reproduce cleanly and truthfully. The guitar is rather backwardly balanced, although given its generally limited role in providing little more than a harmonic–textural background in the violin and guitar works, this is rarely a musical distraction. The ambience suggests a room (in the Villa Antonietta in Crespina) with a warm though by no means generous acoustic.

Julian Haylock

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