Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Concertos: No. 4;
Christian Ferras (vn); Pietro Argento, cond; Naples Scarlatti O;
Ida Haendel (vn); Ferruccio Scaglia, cond; RAI Rome O;
Zino Francescatti (vn); Fernando Previtali, cond; RAI Turin O;
Gioconda de Vito (vn); Eugen Jochum, cond; Bavarian RSO
TAHRA 670-671 (2 CDs: 127:21) Live:
Tahra’s release of performances from the 1950s by Christian Ferras, Ida Haendel, Zino Francescatti, and Gioconda de Vito bears the subtitle
La Fête à Stradivarius
(it’s the first volume; another will include the Sibelius Concerto played by Bronislaw Gimpel and the Brahms Concerto played by Nathan Milstein) because all these violinists preferred Stradivaris. Ferras would later record Mozart’s Fourth Concerto in the studio (in September 1960, with the Paris Conservatory Orchestra, on HMV). His reading of the work with the Naples Scarlatti Orchestra, about two years earlier, sounds sonorous and sweet-toned, supported by a vigorous orchestral accompaniment. In the first movement, he introduces portamentos that more modern violinists (and some listeners) might find inappropriate but that sound as though they’re native to the subtly nuanced context he’s created for them; in the cadenza, he’s authoritative in a way that may derive in part from his more romantic approach. The slow movement in his reading possesses perhaps more weight (with a cadenza matching in manner), and proceeds at a more solemn tempo than more recent fashion might dictate, but it’s affecting nonetheless. A similar
characterizes the finale, especially in its more lyrical transitional moments.
The repeated notes of the Fifth Concerto’s opening tutti, recorded at about the same time (and less reverberantly, but there’s some difficulty with the sonics in the slow movement’s cadenza), sound piquant; but few nowadays would tolerate such pronounced portamento as that in the orchestral violins. Nonetheless, Ida Haendel is sufficiently alert rhythmically (and plays with a welcome lightness in Joachim’s cadenza) to satisfy the more thoroughly scrubbed sensibilities of modern listeners. So might the simple and direct lyricism she affects in the slow movement (although it’s not typewriter-clean, and although she decidedly breaks the theme’s 16th-note patterns into groups of two on occasion). The rondo finale is enlivened by Haendel’s sprightly, if not exotic, characterization of the eponymous “Turkish” episode.
The recorded sound of Zino Francescatti’s performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto perhaps shows its age more than do the two that precede it in the collection; of course, it’s roughly five years earlier. Francescatti would go on to record Mendelssohn’s Concerto twice in the studio: the first time on November 17, 1954, with Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic (Columbia ML 4965 on LP, rereleased as Sony MH2K 62339 on CD), and later in stereo (Columbia ML 5751 and MS 6351; rereleased on CD as Sony CSCR 8452). Francescatti sounded less driven than Heifetz in Mendelssohn’s Concerto (and less mannered than Oistrakh). But his performance sparkled with dapper personal highlights nonetheless. The recorded sound, as did that of the slow movement’s cadenza of Haendel’s performance, suffers throughout, but Francescatti shines through, not least in the slow movement; Fernando Previtali and the orchestra similarly personalize that movement. The finale is quite a display, though Francescatti never rushes the tempo.
In 1956, Eugen Jochum provided a majestic—and, at least by comparison with some more recent performances—taut accompaniment for Gioconda di Vito’s reading of Brahms’s Concerto. The recorded sound captures di Vito at a seemingly great distance that blends her tone into that of the orchestra (in fact, some accompanying solos almost cover it). Nevertheless, it’s clear that she not only possessed great assurance as a soloist but penetrated deeply into Brahms’s Concerto. She sounds muscular (though perhaps not visceral, as did Heifetz and Kogan) in the first movement’s angular passagework, with enough attention to detail to stamp her signature indelibly on the performance. She and Jochum relaxed in the slow movement, and the recorded sound adequately captures her glowing tone on the G string in the movement’s throbbing central passages as well as her purity in the higher registers. Her reading of the finale combines bite and weight, not only in the thematic double-stops but throughout, although her slow tempo recalls once again the association of the tempo indication’s
ma non troppo vivace
with Joachim rather than with Brahms himself (curiously, Tahra’s jewel case lists the designation as
, pure and simple). The coda, picking up the tempo, ends di Vito’s performance with pounding excitement.
Collectors of violin recordings should need no recommendation to recognize the interest and value of Tahra’s release. More general listeners may be less willing to accept the aging sonics to hear the performances, although all of them possess merit. Strongly recommended, therefore, though with caveats.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Zino Francescatti (Violin)
Written: 1844; Germany
Date of Recording: 12/18/1953
Length: 27 Minutes 37 Secs.
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 77 by Johannes Brahms
Gioconda De Vito (Violin)
Written: 1878; Austria
Date of Recording: 11/15/1956
Length: 41 Minutes 38 Secs.
Concerto for Violin no 4 in D major, K 218 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Christian Ferras (Violin)
Date of Recording: 02/21/1958
Length: 25 Minutes 36 Secs.
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