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Berg, Stravinsky: Violin Concertos / Ansermet, Ferras, Et Al

Release Date: 09/05/2006 
Label:  Claves   Catalog #: 2516   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Alban BergIgor Stravinsky
Performer:  Christian Ferras
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: n/a 
Length: 0 Hours 48 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BERG Violin Concerto. 1 STRAVINSKY Violin Concerto 2 Christian Ferras (vn); Ernest Ansermet, cond; O de la Suisse Romande CLAVES 2516, mono (48:24) Live: Geneva 4/3/1957; 1 10/5/1966 2

Christian Ferras, torchbearer of the French school of violin-playing, made recordings with the greatest orchestras and Read more conductors of his time. Alas, he cut that time short in 1982 by taking his own life at the age of 49. Although he formed a partnership of sorts with Karajan, recording the Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky violin concertos with him for Deutsche Grammophon between 1964 and 1967, the live recordings with Ansermet came at roughly the same time.

Ferras produced a tone that might be described rhapsodically as “luminous,” and affected a distinctive vibrato that he produced by a distinctive means, which DVD releases allow viewers to examine in detail. The live recording of the Berg Concerto, from 1957, captures only some of the richness of Ferras’s sound (playing the 1721 President Stradivari) in Berg’s Concerto, which he would record six years later in the studio for EMI. The Belgian-trained Hungarian, André Gertler, made an early recording of Berg’s Concerto with Paul Kletzki, one that critics at the time selected as one of the handful of greatest violin recordings of all time. Gertler and Kletzki seem to prefer a more direct path through the Concerto, devoting less attention to detail and more to the piece’s main argument. Like James Levine with Anne-Sophie Mutter later, Ansermet focuses greater attention on the colors, and Ferras draws a more sumptuous tone, especially in the early statements of the final chorale, than Gertler either could or cared to. The result seems at the same time more static, more pointillistic, moodier—and overall less patently narrational. Ansermet and Ferras create in the Carpathian folk tune in the second section of the first movement a heavier sort of folk dance than Gertler’s (Manon Gropius, whose life, innocence, suffering, and transfiguration the work recounts, reached only the age of 18). After the Berg Concerto reading, Ferras’s live recording of Stravinsky’s Concerto (he didn’t record it in the studio, though a performance of it can be seen on EMI/IMG 4904449, 27:6) sounds exceptionally spiky (he’s now playing the Milanollo Stradivari, which had belonged to both Viotti and Paganini). Thierry de Choudens’s notes cite a review of this performance by Edouard Müller-Moor of the Tribune de Genève in which the critic relates that he had harbored doubts about the Concerto’s solo part until he heard David Oistrakh’s recording (perhaps with Haitink from 1963, issued by Philips on 434 167, in which Oistrakh sounds uncharacteristically punchy and aggressive, as he should in this piece—live performances from the same period with Kondrashin and Sanderling have been periodically made available). But here, Ferras also plays the outer movements with a heady rhythmic incisiveness approaching Kyung-Wha Chung’s—and explores the Aria I’s jazzy offhandedness with greater piquancy than did, for example, Stern with Stravinsky. In Aria II, as de Choudens suggests, Ferras drew upon his lush tone production to achieve a strong contrast, imbuing this movement with a Romanticism by turns more ardent and more sobbingly pathetic than may seem altogether appropriate in this snappily neo-Classical tribute to Bach—a judgment that I made more generally to his performance on DVD in 27:6.

Since Ferras hasn’t been so well represented in reissue (nor in original issue, for that matter) as has been his somewhat older contemporary, Grumiaux (who has himself, until only very recently, languished undeservedly), each and every release assumes extra importance, especially live ones like this. Recommended in particular for Ferras’s bracing account of Stravinsky, but also for his warm-hearted (if somewhat heavy-handed) reading of Berg’s reconciliation of past and future, system and sensibility.

FANFARE: Robert Maxham
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin by Alban Berg
Performer:  Christian Ferras (Violin)
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1935; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/03/1957 
Venue:  Live  Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland 
Length: 25 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin in D major by Igor Stravinsky
Performer:  Christian Ferras (Violin)
Conductor:  Ernest Ansermet
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Suisse Romande Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931; France 
Date of Recording: 10/05/1966 
Venue:  Live  Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland 
Length: 22 Minutes 44 Secs. 

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