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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto
Violin Sonata No 1
Christian Ferras, violin
Pierre Barbizet, piano
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
Recorded 1964 (Concerto) 1968 (Sonata)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON ELOQUENCE 457 298.2 [67’56]


Ferras’s Brahms Concerto has been a generally admired account since its first appearance in 1964. He had an admirer as well in Karajan who is at something approaching his best here, often commandingly sensitive and thematically and textually revelatory. Ferras’ first entry doesn’t however sound fully "centred" and the succeeding orchestral soloists are rather unnaturally forward in the balance. But Karajan is imaginatively effective at 5’15 where he gives real life and meaning to the lower strings’ figure – and he is particularly good here and elsewhere at points of contrastive material, one of his great strengths as a concerto accompanist. Ferras’s vibrato is very fast and rather inclined to the wavery-quavery kind, if I can put it that way, and it has a slightly acidic tonal quality which confers a distinctive patina to his playing. I respect his musicality whilst not being a huge admirer of his tonal qualities.

There is a predictable weight to the orchestral contribution before the first movement cadenza (the Kreisler) and there is a considerable amount of orchestral incident audible, clearly but not officiously elucidated by Karajan and never at the expense of the music’s own internal logic and dynamism. Certainly this is not the quickest performance of the first movement on record but correspondingly it never feels solemnly or unnecessarily slow. The second movement sounds slightly too plush though with rich solos from the orchestral principals and at 3’30 some very saturated string interplay. Ferras’s slightly broken passagework leads to – for once – clearly audible orchestral pizzicatos from 7’20. The soloist is very expressive but not over succulent. It’s true as well that there are some moments of over-perfumed relaxation in the finale which co-exist with moments of dramatic insight and cogent delineation of the musical argument. A sometimes provocative performance then, but not a central recommendation.

The Sonata recording is extracted from the Ferras-Barbizet set of all three. This is a fresh and generous traversal but Ferras displays some of his intensely coiled and wavery vibrato once more which can, even with Barbizet’s excellent support, somewhat vitiate a work of this romantic impress. There is lyric intensity in profusion in the adagio but a lack of tonal opulence. It remains of a piece with Ferras’s interpretation of the Concerto and many will admire the more edgy and nervous insight his kind of playing brings to the romantic literature.

Jonathan Woolf


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