“It’s good for you as a performer to be pushing yourself to the edge, and this music absolutely does that,” Fenella Humphreys tells Apple Music. “As a kid, when I did competitions, the reaction was always, ‘She’s so musical; shame about her technique.’” With her album Caprices, she’s finally “calming those voices” in the back of her mind. Spanning 200 years—and including a series of world premieres commissioned by Humphreys—the repertoire here is thrillingly diverse, all of it united by just one thing: the extraordinary technical and expressive demands it places on the player. These are showpieces, designed to dazzle.   Indeed, this album sees the British violinist tackle some of the most famous virtuoso violin pieces of all time: Paganini’s 24 Caprices. “I avoided them like the plague for a long time because, somehow, I had come to believe that I wasn’t able to play that sort of music,” says Humphreys. “But it was time to get rid of those ghosts, and now I love performing them. The variations are almost like water droplets, each containing a different world.” One of these miniatures, however—the famous “Caprice No. 24”—becomes the basis for a rather broader and less familiar landscape. Humphreys commissioned 12 different composers to create a 16-bar variation each on Paganini’s original theme. “The variety of language coming from the same theme is quite extraordinary,” she says. “You have Heloise Werner’s variation, which demands singing and shouting, Alex Howard’s utterly devastating and beautiful variation, and James Joslin’s variation, in which each bar correlates to one of Paganini’s own variations, but he’s tweaking notes and rhythms so cleverly.”   This wide-ranging selection also includes the classic, concert-hall brilliance of Fritz Kreisler’s “Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice, Op. 6”, Roxanna Panufnik’s colourful “Hora Bessarabia”—originally composed for the 2016 Menuhin Competition—and Errollyn Wallen’s rhapsodic “For Airi”, with its sense of music suspended in midair. And among them are four works that are particularly close to Humphreys’ heart: new commissions from young British composers Freya Waley-Cohen, Oliver Leith, Seonaid Aitken and Laurence Osborn that offer exhilaratingly varied takes on what virtuoso violin music might look like in the 21st century.   Waley-Cohen’s “Caffeine” started life as a piece for recorder and was later re-worked for violin at Humphreys’ request. “I was at the premiere,” she says. “It just had such an amazing energy to it that I wanted to be part of it. It’s a musical version of what your brain does when you’ve had way too much coffee.” The same high-energy positivity pulses through Seonaid Aitken’s “Glasgow Reel Set”, which blends folk melodies and traditional fiddling with classical techniques to create an electrifying, irrepressible work. “Seonaid actually introduced me to Scottish fiddle music. It has been a really interesting learning curve, finding different ways to hold my arm to make the fast passages work, because they could so easily sound clumsy,” says Humphreys. “I think people hear this music and they feel free in a different way as listeners.” Freedom is a theme that returns in both Leith’s and Osborn’s pieces, too, Humphreys describing them as “gentle and very beautiful” and “full of mad things”. “New music is a world I just love being part of,” says Humphreys. “Working with living composers is thrilling. To be around to see a piece of music coming to life is always an incredible honour.”

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