Notes and Editorial Reviews
ROMANTIC VIOLIN CONCERTOS
Ruggiero Ricci (vn); Adrian Boult, cond; London PO;
Jean Fournet, cond; Netherlands RPO;
, Malcolm Sargent
, cond; London SO
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2080, analog (2 CDs: 126: 04)
Violin Concerto No. 1.
Ruggiero Ricci’s first recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto took place in Kingsway Hall, London, in early 1952, with John Culshaw as producer. Tully Potter’s notes relate that Ricci stood on the stage with the orchestra far below, ensuring good separation, and that Ricci considered Culshaw the best of Decca’s producers, one who achieved an incomparable recorded sound. Ricci, entering his mid-30s, produced an elegant but stormily dramatic (and virtuosic, as might be expected) account of the first movement, one unmarred by whatever aggressive tendencies his violin playing later displayed and one that in relaxed moments sounded sweetly reflective (a manner not usually associated with perhaps the most macho of violinists, one that Boult also revealed in the most delicate passages). The recorded sound, clear but with lots of body in the lower strings, allows a great deal of detail to emerge. Ricci doesn’t fail to penetrate the Larghetto’s profound core and gives a rollicking account of the finale, though always consistent with the work’s grandeur. Ricci, possibly playing the Camposelice Guarneri del Gesù that he used in many of his earlier recordings, sounds more than usually refined timbrally, though he sounded that way on the several occasions when I heard him live (in the concertos of Paganini, Sibelius, and Brahms).
Potter also relates a story about the Mendelssohn concerto’s recording from August 1974 in the AVRO studio: a young violin student told Ricci after one of the rehearsals that she thought he’d taken the first movement too quickly, and he listened (would she have offered similar suggestions to Heifetz and would he have considered them?). In any case, the first movement in this recording sounds deliberate, with Ricci more plaintive than, say, Oistrakh, not to mention Heifetz or Milstein, although his cadenza sounds a bit muscular, rather than lightweight and gracefully elegant. The collection’s title,
Romantic Violin Concertos
, gives the most obvious clue to his performance. It’s Romantic rather than Classical, yet free from the excesses often associated with the period. In the slow movement, his tone sounds almost as thick as Elman’s, but it occasionally becomes almost lost in a recorded sound that doesn’t favor him so much as did the engineering in Beethoven’s concerto. Still, the performance of the slow movement reveals many nuances that assist in placing it among the more romantic, rather than the most modern, of readings. Ricci doesn’t rush in the finale, either, but articulates clearly. Fournet provides an accompaniment that’s transparently clear; perhaps that’s why the solo part in the finale bubbles effervescently despite the leisurely tempo. Overall, it’s an infectious performance of the concerto, combining detail, energy, suavity, and poignancy in an unusual mixture.
Ricci recorded the most popular of Bruch’s concertos the first time (of at least three, including one with Kuntzsch in 1977 and one with Bakels in 1997) with Piero Gamba in January 1957 in Kingsway Hall. Potter cites Ricci’s speculation that Decca had intended to bring together the two young phenomena. Ricci’s entry in the first movement sounds leaner and tauter than Isaac Stern’s fatter one from the ’50s. Throughout he eschews noisy portamenti; someone who knew him well told me that he’d complain about violinists who played sounds that weren’t written, though he himself never imitated a typewriter. Decca’s clean and clear recorded sound from Kingsway Hall may have separated soloist and orchestra, but it didn’t unbalance it: He still has to fight his way through the thundering tuttis. Together, he and Gamba wring from the slow movement an exceptional amount of the heartfelt sentiment for which it became so well known—and so popular. And Ricci’s tone glows red hot on the G string; the finale struts with virtuosic defiance, yet his statement of the big theme on the lowest string would melt that in many other performances.
The recording of Dvo?ák’s performance with Sargent also comes from Kingsway Hall, this time from January 1961. The recorded sound, perhaps the cleanest of any in the set, allows Sargent to make a strong case for the symphonic orchestral part, but Ricci plays the solo for all it’s worth, and the result is deeply affecting in its warm, yet taut, exposition of the movement’s ethnic thematic material. Milstein warmed his performances of the slow movement with Slavic ardor, but Ricci’s adds a touch of sensibility and—dare it be mentioned in the same breath as Ricci’s name—tenderness. While his reading of the finale dances with folk-like vigor, Ricci is especially effective in the poignant episodes.
Decca’s set of uniformly first-rate performances by Ricci spanning more than two decades deserves a place on every violin lover’s music shelf, and such is the urgency of their communication that general listeners should be impressed as deeply by their exoteric features as violinists will be by their esoteric ones. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Ruggiero Ricci (Violin)
Sir Adrian Boult
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Ruggiero Ricci (Violin)
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1844; Germany
Concerto for Violin in A minor, Op. 53 by Antonín Dvorák
Ruggiero Ricci (Violin)
Sir Malcolm Sargent
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1879-1880; Bohemia
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