The Menotti was premiered by Efrem Zimbalist on 5/6 December 1952 with the
Philadelphia conducted by Ormandy. It is an aristocratically romantic work
with not a hint of over-the-top romance. You need have no fears that this
is going to be as luxuriant as the Korngold of five years previously. The
romanticism is flowingly done by Ricci without the shrill fire of the 1955
LP recording (Tossy Spivakovsky with the Boston SO conducted by Charles Munch).
The first movement is glowingly melodic and though marginally over-stretched
it uses a rather lovely idea. The second movement is reflective of course
and here the links with its disc-mate, the Barber concerto, come over strongly.
The work is old-fashioned and its kinship is with Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.
Only in this middle movement, with its slightly discordant fanfares, does
a feint whiff of modernism enter the proceedings, soon dispelled (3:53) by
a tentative French après-midi interlude. This in turn gives place
to a quicksilver cadenza melting back into an episode of veiled beauty carried
by ecstatic strings. The playful finale has hints of the Prokofiev first
concerto. The shade of Balakirev's Tamara appears (2:00) in the form of a
slave dance as the violin sings with reserve and rapt adoration over rhythmic
drumming. If you like romantic violin concertos (Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Barber,
Ivanovs, Karlowicz) you are seriously missing out if you do not hear this.
A classic of the twentieth century.
Almost fifteen years before the Menotti premiere, the Philadelphia and Ormandy
partnered Albert Spalding in the first performance of the Barber Concerto,
a work that has held its place in the repertory and for a while was represented
by the CBS LP. Of course we are not short of performances of the Barber Concerto.
This one is given a reflectively nostalgic rather than a hectically quick-fire
performance. Do not misunderstand: there are fireworks but a longer view
is the hallmark of the approach. Listen for example to the long drawn pause
out in the first movement at 3:58. This is daringly slow but Ricci and his
conspirators succeed and at the same time lay bare the bones of the Barber
work more effectively than many a hot-shot performance. The contours are
warmly detailed and the colours give off a luminescence which is only hinted
at elsewhere. Ricci's half-hooded tone at 11:03 is compulsively listenable.
The slow movement is played lingeringly; somehow like a lover's wondering
watch in the depths of a moonlit night over the sleep of their partner. (Sorry
for the fanciful language; it is that sort of work.) The oh-so-hesitant distant
fanfares in the centre of the movement inject a moment's foreboding but all
settles back again into the nightwatch. The flighty presto has the same qualities
and here the steady hand caused me a few misgivings. It could have done with
greater speed. While noticeably quick it is clear that Ricci is taking his
time to admire and suffuse the landscape with his own colours and textures.
Once again however there are real gains in the definition of ideas. All too
soon the movement ends but then this movement always struck me as too perfunctory
(even at this speed) by comparison with its predecessors.
The technical side is lovingly handled by Reference Recordings who clearly
relished Ricci's mesmerically detailed approach. If you have rather tired
of dash, rush and flashy stridency in this work then this is the disc for
I quibble over playing time which seems short by the side of many issues
these days. The musical and technical quality is however undeniable. This
will be the connoisseurs' recording of choice in years to come. A sleeper
in relation to the Barber and an enduring hit in the case of the unfairly
neglected Menotti. Now how about a disc of the Menotti concertos including
the piano concerto and the triple concerto?