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A touch of Paganini at the London Jazz Festival

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Alyn Shipton Alyn Shipton | 10:44 UK Time, Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Picture of Alyn Shipton with Regina Carter

Alyn Shipton recording Jazz Library at the LJF with Regina Carter

Monday night saw the brilliant jazz violinist Regina Carter in town for her concert at the Purcell Room. Beforehand, we recorded an edition of Jazz Library about her life and work, which will be broadcast on Radio 3 on Saturday 26 November at midnight.

I think the most unexpected part of our discussion was when I asked her about the album After A Dream which she had recorded in Italy on the Guarnieri del Jesu violin that had once belonged to the great virtuoso Paganini. 'The keepers of the instrument were worried,' she said, 'that by letting a jazz musician play on it, it might in some way reduce its value!' Fortunately good sense prevailed and both on record and in concert she produced some fine playing on this instrument, with its particularly rich and vibrant tone.


Picture of Niccolo Paganini with his Guarneri del Gesu violin

Paganini with his Guarneri del Gesu violin

When I asked Regina if it was strung like a modern fiddle she told me it was, with metal strings, rather than baroque-style gut, but that it was somewhat different in shape and size from a contemporary violin. The body was bigger and the neck a slightly different length, so she was obliged to think carefully about the stops and positions. I thought her metaphor describing the experience was brilliant, when she said, 'It's like going into a room in your house blindfold, and discovering that someone has been in and moved the furniture around. Nothing is quite where you expect to find it.' Whereas a player given custody of a Stradivarius, an Amati or a Guarnieri might reasonably expect several months to become familiar with it, Carter only had a few days.

But her version of Enrico Morricone's 'Cinema Paradiso' theme was so brilliantly played that it produced something I've never previously experienced from a live recording of Jazz Library, namely a round of applause from the audience. Paganini would have been proud, I suspect, to hear his favourite instrument in such capable hands.


  • Comment number 1.

    Morning programmes on Radio 3 have become bad beyond all belief. Announcers on Radio 3 "Essential Classics" gabble too much, and too indistinctly, and do not clearly give the work being played - their only main function ! - and works and performance seem to be no longer listed under schedule on the web site. Thankfully there are still some good things on Radio 3. Composer of the Week and Early Music Show and afternoon concerts are still very good generally. But Radio 3 seems in danger of becoming and endangered cultural asset.


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