Notes and Editorial Reviews
SONATAS FOR VIOLIN
Ruggiero Ricci (vn); Carlo Bussotti (pn)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 2086, analog (2 CDs: 123:10)
Solo Violin Sonata No. 1. Solo Violin Partita No. 2.
Solo Violin Sonata.
class="ARIAL12b"> Solo Violin Sonatas:
Solo Violin Sonata.
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D,
Ruggiero Ricci recorded Bach’s First Solo Sonata twice: in 1957 for London (originally issued as LL 1706) and in 1968 for Decca (issued as DL 10142 and 710142). The recording reproduced on Decca Eloquence’s compilation of sonatas comes from January 1957 in London; Ricci plays the Camposelice Guarneri del Gesù. Those familiar with Ricci’s aggressive style shouldn’t be surprised to find that he breaks chords aggressively in the Adagio. But the flexibility and nuance of his phrasing, beyond the heavy accents, reveal an artist who could rise above mannerisms. Decca’s engineers provided a lifelike, if occasionally somewhat dry, representation of his sound. The Fuga lets him revel in his characteristically crisp chordal playing, yet his playing never sounds forced, though it’s always forceful. By contrast, the Siciliana, taken at a slower tempo than many contemporary violinists influenced by the period-instrument movement would likely adopt, may for that reason sound heavy-handed to some listeners; and in the Presto, his correspondingly slower tempo gives the movement a sense of solidity rather than one of rhythmically shifting fleet-footedness. Still, there’s enough of the kaleidoscope in his rushing notes and enough spring in his détaché to render the movement consistently interesting.
Ricci’s performance of Bach’s Second Partita comes from the same period and the same recording studio. (He would later record it for Decca, released as DL 10151 and 710151). Again, the engineers captured the richness of his tone on the Camposelice Guarneri. As in his reading of the Siciliana from the First Sonata, he adopts a tempo in the partita’s Allemande that lends the performance a strong sense of proceeding note by note. The Corrente, Sarabande, and Giga make a similar impression—one of almost etude-like solidity. And unlike Heifetz, with whom his technical prowess has, rightly or wrongly, been compared, Ricci took his time in the Chaconne, which clocks in at 14:19, neither too brisk nor unduly stately. Ricci easily transcends the technical difficulties of this musical monument, but also manages to create a vivid sense of its transcendental majesty. And the general solidity of the performance doesn’t preclude his creating an occasional rushing sensation in the rapid notes or providing occasional dance-like relief. Those who admire Ricci should be very grateful to Decca Eloquence for making these recordings available.
Ricci’s performance of Bartók’s Solo Violin Sonata comes from Geneva, in April 1960, when he played the 1734 Gibson Guarneri del Gesù. Compared to the steely readings of Viktoria Mullova and György Pauk, Ricci sounds relatively mild-mannered, with subtle nuances that others overlook in their headlong rush through the thickets. Ricci also played Ysaÿe’s solo sonatas with what may be to some surprising sensitivity; and I remember an interview in which Ricci insisted how much he preferred recording the literature for solo violin because of the interpretive freedom it allowed. He certainly took advantage of it in Bartók’s
tempo di ciaccona
, along the way humanizing some passages that sometimes sound
. Nevertheless, in the Fuga, he displays a tendency, which I’ve also observed here and there in his recordings of Paganini’s caprices, Wieniawski’s
, and Ernst’s polyphonic studies, to allow clusters of notes in difficult passsages to agglutinate and become jumbled rhythmically, though his masterly way with this polyphonic
tour de force
tames many of its other difficulties. He’s haunting and deeply expressive in the Melodia and far from abstract in the Presto, which tempts some violinists to abandon the kind of rich emotional palette upon which Ricci draws in movements like this.
The reading of Stravinsky’s
comes from the Swiss sessions in 1960. Usually played on the viola, it works well on the violin, too, as Ricci demonstrates in his wiry but emotionally resonant performance. His recordings of both of Hindemith’s solo violin sonatas also hailed from the sessions in Geneva, and I remember them from an LP, along with Prokofiev’s Solo Sonata (recorded at the same time). The impression I had more than a generation ago of these performances as desiccated and brittle hasn’t endured, and now it’s their intelligent musicianship that strikes me more forcefully. For example, in the slow second movement of the First Sonata, Ricci impales listeners on Hindemith’s poignant motives; he discovers lively charm at the end of the playful fourth movement and garnishes that sonata’s
finale with quicksilver rapid passagework. The Second Sonata, itself more relaxed, receives a genial performance from Ricci: lambent in the first movement, infectious in the pizzicato third , and both virtuosic and protean in the finale, a set of five variations on Mozart’s
Komm, lieber Mann.
Tully Potter asks why Oistrakh didn’t adopt Prokofiev’s Solo Sonata; the story goes that he considered the work, intended for group performance in classes, not to possess the highest artistic merit. Potter retails a story about Ricci and Szigeti vying for the first performance in Carnegie Hall: Ricci believes he won by a few days. In any case, his reading and Szigeti’s could hardly be more different. Ricci’s performance of the first movement, taken at a much more rapid tempo than Szigeti’s recorded one, sounds both more bracing and more coherent, with a richer vein of lyricism in the second theme. Ricci makes a stronger case for the second movement as well, with a firmer tone and more secure technique than Szigeti possessed at the time, and with a becoming lack of sentimentality. But while Ricci hardly refrains from nuance, as his reading of the finale shows, he intersperses imaginative virtuosic flights and ends with a bang, slapping the final chordal passage with a panache that Szigeti didn’t manage (and perhaps couldn’t have managed). Would Oistrakh have played the work with such impudent flair?
Prokofiev’s Second Violin Sonata, recorded, according to the notes, in Ricci’s home in 1953, with Carlo Bussotti and with the Camposelice Guarneri, recalls in the first movement the breathtaking nobility of Milstein’s reading (although Ricci sounds edgier in the sharply etched rhythmic motives, even emitting the odd squeak now and then). But the tone of his instrument at that time matched the vigorous leanness of his style and contributes to the effect he created in the first movement. In the Scherzo, however, Ricci comes perilously close to losing control of the off-the-string bowings (a friend of mine told me that at a famous music school, students used to refer to the violinist as “screechy Ricci”). Ricci seems closer to the microphone than Bussotti, and such a placement may have allowed the Victor mike he claims he used to pick up all sorts of extraneous instrumental noise—although it also captured a detail that’s seldom heard. In the slow movement (which begins almost without a heartbeat’s pause in this recording), Ricci refuses to linger in the seductive black-silk passages and actually heightens their impact. As in Milstein’s performance, the finale is irresistibly sweeping, with Ricci digging in on the G string in such a way as to leave memories of the flute version of the sonata far behind. Bussotti serves Ricci as an intelligent and compatible partner.
Those who admire Ricci should find in this set a special feast: Prokofiev’s Second Sonata may be the highlight, but aficionados of the violinist should want to acquire the set for his readings of Bach’s Chaconne and Bartók’s Solo Sonata as well—just to mention several
. Strongly recommended across the board.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Elégie for Viola solo by Igor Stravinsky
Ruggiero Ricci (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944; United States
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