> Mendelssohn, Bruch violin Concertos Ricci []: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Violin Concerto No 1
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Introduction and Rondo capriccioso

Ruggiero Ricci, violin
London Symphony Orchestra
Pierino Gamba
Recorded 1958 (Mendelssohn, Bruch) 1960 (Saint-Saens)
DECCA ELOQUENCE 461 369-2 [68.22]

As couplings go this is the most famous you can find, albeit with the addition of the two Saint-Saëns sweetmeats. But with Pierino Gamba on the rostrum – childhood prodigy conductor – and the combustible, galvanizing figure of Ruggiero Ricci as soloist it’s a safe bet that the recording won’t be a safe bet. And so it proves. If you want elevated, sweet toned raffine playing in the Mendelssohn, if your preference is for romanticism but not ever emoted expressivity in the Bruch; if, in short, you enjoy well equalized and discreet musicality then Ricci is not the violinist for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy personalized playing, an exceptional technique, some succulent and big sounds and the antithesis of impersonal and blandly monochrome disengagement then maybe Ricci is for you after all.

Ricci has recently (2002) announced his retirement from the concert stage, a career that extended even beyond Milstein’s, and which saw some considerable ups and downs. He tended publicly to denigrate his middle period – of which this recording is, I suppose, an example - as a time in which he played safe, in which he unlearned the adolescent speculations and strongly emotionalised responses to music making. In his middle age, with the belief, in his words, that it was better to be a whore than a nun, he felt he regained control of his own musical destiny.

Ricci is an engaging personality and a sometimes contentious musician. In the Mendelssohn there is some tremulous playing in the first movement but also a splendid cadenza and elegantly expressive playing – nothing sleek and manicured about it all – and some delightful phrasal inflections. Interesting too to hear how Gamba encourages woodwind weight behind the soloist. In the second movement, where one might expect some disruptive mannerisms Ricci’s vibrancy – in contrast – is eloquently under control. The finale is restrained too, at a reasonable tempo and not the show off sprint it can sometimes become; admirable is the little fillip Gamba gives to the trumpets here (and there are a number of little felicities in his management of the orchestral patina that intrigued me). The Bruch is another good performance, if not in the more exalted category of recordings. Maybe one might shy away from his over vibrated intensity at some points in the first movement – but they could equally be seen as valid emotional responses to melodic depths – but I must say I liked his way with the music; open hearted without emotive fawning, tonally wide without some of the more obvious points of dissention associated with it (oscillatory vibrato, over intense lyrical line) The Saint-Saëns pieces, recorded two years later, follow pretty much the same profile – vibrant without hysteria and very engaging.

Very nice transfers of recordings now over forty years old – you would never know - and an autumnal cover photograph of a rather desiccated looking birch tree. Nothing desiccated about the performances though.

Jonathan Woolf




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