> Tchaikovsky, paganini: Ricci Sargent [JW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Caprices op 1
Ruggiero Ricci, violin
New Symphony Orchestra
Malcolm Sargent
Recorded 1950
PEARL GEM 0136 [70.47]

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Ruggiero Ricci recently (2002) announced his retirement from the concert platform after a lifetime’s performing. Slightly younger than Menuhin, with whom he was sometimes contrasted, he has a huge discography to his credit ranging from standard repertoire through finger-busting gymnastics to works on the esoteric fringe of the contemporary repertoire. The recordings here are from what sleeve-note writer and noted collector, Raymond Glaspole, calls Ricci’s 'years of maturity' – that is, his early thirties. No longer the scintillating prodigy not yet the middle aged soloist, these Decca LPs find him in something approaching prime form. I have to admit that I was surprised how good the Tchaikovsky sounds. He was to re-record the work with Sargent – on that occasion with the LSO – a decade later but back in 1950, in these excellent sounding discs, he evinces real style and his own brand of bravura in the Concerto. There are some fairly typical of-their-time textual emendations to the score but there is much to admire in Ricci’s typically forthright and extrovert performance.

The galvanizing violin run at 4.50 in the first movement, with its rubato maybe slightly theatrically imposed, is exciting (but doesn’t it seem just slightly artificial?). Ricci’s vibrato is exceptionally fast, as ever, though it’s not, in this recording, as violently oscillatory as it could sometimes become and sounds here under firm control. He is vibrant, expressive with no gauche slides and good finger position changes. Sargent is an excellent foil for Ricci and shapes the work with excellently contoured understanding. Listen, for example, at 4.10 into the second movement where both soloist and conductor prepare the lyrical argument with superbly timed aplomb. Maybe there is some rather smeary playing from the soloist and a little – surely forgivable – sentimentalising though Ricci’s attitude to such criticism would doubtless be as robust as his playing – he was once quoted as saying that it was "better to be a prostitute than a nun" and, translated into musical terms, that meant overplay rather than understate. The finale is steady and effective, one small intonational blemish aside, albeit that it’s not the most convulsive and propulsive account or one that I’d assumed it would be.

Ricci’s 1950 account of the Caprices was the first to be recorded. Without the accustomed and inauthentic piano accompaniment these recordings are a testament to his daring. Despite the rather unsympathetic acoustic Decca provided there is no doubting Ricci’s vigorous and fearless playing. These performances are, despite his almost legendary reputation, not unimpeachable technically but the compensations are many and there is some splendidly trenchant and acute playing here. One can detect his rather intense vibrato in the Octaves study, No 3, obtrusively so to my ears but also how well he sustains melodic line in the Thirds study. One could hardly expect scrupulously clean playing – and it’s not – but the fifth Caprice is stunningly good and the tremolo study equally good. Finally listen as he sustains the melody in No 11 and the way in which he integrates the contrastive elements of these fiendish studies. This is a fine, mid-period salute to a violinist of exceptional and highly personalized gifts.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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