Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ruggiero Ricci.

A Life for the Violin

DYNAMIC CDS 393/1-10
[10 CDs - total timing 10 hours 3 minutes]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS Superbudget

Error processing SSI file

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Sonata No. 2 in A minor
Partita No. 3 in E major – Prelude
Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764)

Air in B minor
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Variations on Mose
La Campanella
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Introduction and Tarantelle
Eugene YSAŸE (1858-1931)

Rêve d’enfant
With variously Carl Fürstner and Louis Persinger (piano)
Recorded 1938 (Bach Sonata, Vox 1940s)
Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Violin Concerto
Eugene YSAŸE (1858-1931)

Sonata No. 4 in E minor
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)

Caprice in A minor
Staccato Etude
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in C sharp minor
With New Symphony orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Recorded 1946 live in New York except Tchaikovsky Concerto, 1950
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

24 Caprices Op. 1
Recorded 1949
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 5 in F major Op. 24 Spring
Sonata No. 9 in A major Op. 47 Kreutzer
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Violin Sonata
With Eugenio Bagnoli (piano)
No recording date
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)

L’Arte dell’ Arco, 60 Variations on a theme by Corelli
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

60 Variations on Barucabà
Recorded Salzburg 1995 (Tartini), Salzburg 1996 (Paganini)

César FRANCK (181822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A major
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Violin Sonata in D major Op. 94a
Eugene YSAŸE (1858-1931)

Sonata No. 3 in D minor Op. 27
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Variations on God Save The King Op. 9
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Partita No. 3 in E major BWV 1006 – Gavotte
With Martha Argerich (piano)
Recorded live New York October 1979
Heinrich Wilhelm ERNST (1814-1865)

Six Polyphonic Studies for solo violin
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)

L’Ecole Moderne: Study Caprices for solo violin Op. 10
Recorded 1983
Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)

Cantabile in D major
Tarantella in A minor
Nel cor piu non mi sento
Cantabile and Waltz
Sonata No. 1 from Centone de Sonate
Sonata Op. 2 No. 1
Sonata Op. 3 No. 1
Sonata Op. 3 No. 2
Sonata Op. 3 No. 6
Variations on Moses
Variations di bravura
Sonata in A major Op. posth
With Stefano Cardi, guitar
No recording dates
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)

Pateneras Op. 35
Rumanian Melody
Jota de S Fermin
Miramar (Zortzico) Op. 42
Serenata Andalusa Op. 28
Chansons Russes Op. 49
Jota Aragonesa Op. 27
Adios montanas mias Op. 37
Jota de Pablo Op. 52
Zortzico d’Iparaguirre Op. 39
The Song of the Nightmare Op. 29
Faust Fantasie on themes of Charles Gounod
With Graeme McNaught (piano)
Recorded 1992
Henry VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)

Ballade and Polonaise
Chant d’amour
Hommage à Paganini
Yankee Doodle
Pianist not noted [Marco Vincenzi?]
Recorded 1995

This gargantuan ten CD box is a welcome homage to Ruggiero Ricci, born in San Bruno, California in 1918. It’s apt to pay this tribute to him, especially in the light of his retirement recently (2002), and this set certainly covers some ground, taking him from his earliest recordings to a 1996 session of – characteristically – some finger busting Paganini. Thus the first disc begins with the sessions of 1938 – accompanied either by his first teacher, Louis Persinger, or the German pianist Carl Fürstner (in the Berlin sessions) and we end the final, tenth disc with the breezy gymnastics of the seventy-seven year Ricci in Vieuxtemps.

That first disc captures the twenty-two year old in strong and commanding form, already imbued with the striking vibrato by which, tonally, he is to be defined. In Bach’s Second solo Sonata, with which the set starts – though this is a slightly later recording, made for Vox in the 1940s - he is perhaps more ear titillating than truly searching. Unlike his contemporary and fellow Persinger student Yehudi Menuhin Ricci’s Bach, whilst lacking nothing in tonal projection, rather lacks philosophical depth. The Prelude from the Third Partita remained unpublished until first issued on a Biddulph CD and is a robust and forthright performance. Disappointingly the first CD doesn’t include all the 1938 discs and at only 52 minutes there was plenty of space – so the Michael Press arranged Rachmaninov Vocalise isn’t here – one of the young Ricci’s best discs from the sessions. What remains however is a fine slew of virtuoso showpieces – sinewy vibrato in Paganini’s Variations on Mosè, devilish panache in La Campanella, a cholesterol rich Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella, a truly swaggering Habanera but also, often overlooked, the rapt simplicity of his Mattheson Air in B and the lyric intensity and expressive nuance of Ysaye’s Rêve d’enfant. Zigeunerweisen, the warhorse of warhorses, has some daredevil attack in the Allegro molto vivace section and is a powerfully propulsive and energized performance somewhat vitiated here by Dynamic’s clumsy side joins; treating it as a Sonata they band it in four movements – try not to listen for two seconds between the Lento and un poco piu lento sections.

Disc Two takes us forward in time to the immediate post War period and is especially valuable for the live New York Town Hall and Carnegie Hall performances of 1946 and 47. There are some acetate thumps in the Ysaye Sonata – the fourth, dedicated to Kreisler – but otherwise things are in reasonable aural shape. I’ve never come across this before or the Wieniawski and Chopin items, so bravo to Dynamic for including them. The Ysaye has intensity and the Sarabande’s pizzicato episode is handled with scintillating expertise, as are the difficult harmonics. In the concluding Finale he brings a little exotica to his tone – a little Sarasate – and whilst this is not absolutely "clean" playing – the passagework can be rough – it’s profoundly energized. So fiery is it indeed that very premature applause breaks out – caught out by Ricci’s incendiary playing. His Wieniawski Caprice, from the same concert, again has some sticky passagework but is wonderfully propulsive. The Chopin Nocturne from a Carnegie Hall recital from October 1947 is rather more muscular than that of, say, an aristocrat such as Milstein but his Wieniawski Staccato Etude comes with fearless technique and dash. The meat of this disc is the Tchaikovsky Concerto of 1950, the first of his two recordings of this with Malcolm Sargent. Extrovert, forthright, complete with the then expected textual emendations this is a most persuasive traversal. His vibrato is exceptionally fast though not with the same degree of oscillation that could later mar some of his excursions into the romantic repertory. His rubati in the first movement are maybe over studied – very much a matter of taste, this, but I find them somewhat over-theatrical - but elsewhere he is vibrant without becoming sentimentalized and apart from some passing smeary passagework and an intonational slip in the finale this is a commanding performance. Sargent, as so often, accompanies with intuitive understanding.

With the third disc we come to Paganini’s Caprices, the first set to be recorded in their authentic form – without the incrustation of the spurious though not unmusical piano accompaniment. Decca’s acoustic was not overly sensitive to the violinist but Ricci’s fearless bravado triumphed over such trifling problems. Whilst Ricci has built up a commanding reputation as a virtuoso gymnast of the first order these are not technically unimpeachable performances though the extent to which they fall from grace in this respect is trivial when set against such stunning playing. In the Octaves study, No. 3, his vibrato is obtrusively prominent – against which one can note that the melody in the Thirds study is scrupulously maintained, that the Fifth Caprice is magnetic, and that Ricci at all times manages to sustain the contrastive properties of these exceptionally complex pieces with an intense vibrancy and musicality. Disc Four brings us the first of Ricci the Sonata partner. With the fine Italian pianist, Eugenio Bagnoli, in an undated performance they essay the Spring and Kreutzer Sonatas as well as that of Debussy. Ricci’s repertoire is so vast that one forgets that he is an adept at the core literature. Bagnoli is rather backwards in the aural perspective here, which is inclined to be rather swampy anyway, but otherwise acquits himself well, even though Ricci is inclined to cover him in the balance – which is no fault of Bagnoli’s. Ricci isn’t really relaxed or sunny enough in the Spring – and is inclined to be too tense and metrical in the first movement as well as playing a little sharp here and there and dropping a few notes. His phrasing can also be rather matter of fact when judged by the highest standards. The slow movement is attractive and not over emoted, the scherzo not quite cast iron and still some technical slips from the violinist in the finale – which receives quite a solid performance. The Debussy is again rather over robust but Ricci’s bowing is in itself commendable in the Allegro vivo. Some succulent phrasing warms the central movement before some more strong playing in the finale; not in the Grumiaux league though. The Kreutzer is the one work here that most suits Ricci’s bold, slashing style. He makes the occasional very dramatic diminuendo and his passagework can be somewhat untidy but this is a bristling and forthright traversal with a decent variational second movement – albeit one sporting a few more finger slips and intonational worries. Bagnoli comes into his own in the finale, driving some powerful left hand accents; neither man is much inclined to linger over the view. I’m not sure as to the provenance of this recital – of which none of the works feature in his commercial discography to the best of my knowledge – but it sounds very much like an audience microphone affair. Whatever the origin – and it doesn’t sound like a broadcast to me – the recital reveals some limitations in Ricci the sonata recitalist, in terms of ensemble balance, apposite tensile strength, conception and execution.

Number Five takes us to the most recent of the recordings, dating from 1995 and 1996. Though it’s idle to pretend that he has emerged technically unscathed from a long career and from the ravages of time Ricci’s Tartini and Paganini are excellent examples of his latter day playing and of his musical impulses in general. He has always been an inveterately inquisitive musician – would that more of his colleagues followed suit – and sought out much solo work other players would have dismissed as arcane, showy or plain unmusical. Ricci shows that it’s not necessarily so. The Tartini L’Arte dell’ Arco – sixty variations on a theme of Corelli - will be familiar from Kreisler’s appropriation of some choice passages for his own pastiche composition along the same lines. Splendidly virtuosic, legendary cornerstones of the violin literature – but how seldom explored – Ricci brings technical eloquence and liveliness to these pieces as well as a welcome cleanliness in his attacks that more than does justice to Tartini. Equally the Sixty variations on Barucabà receive a scintillating reading – not immaculate but searingly alive; the Salzburg recordings are lifelike and effective.

With the Sixth CD – over half way now – we return to Ricci the Recitalist – and this time paired with a musician of commensurate stature, the equally combustible Martha Argerich. The acoustic for their joint 1979 Carnegie Hall recital is rather opaque and unflattering. They begin with the Franck Sonata, a highly dangerous work to play if ensemble is not of the strongest. Argerich begins very slowly, Ricci takes up a quicker tempo and they drive through the first movement reasonably; there’s drama but also sensitivity in the second movement – with Ricci’s oscillatory vibrato pretty much under control albeit there is some virtuosic skating over of some of the passagework. Argerich is sometimes chordally rather declamatory in the Allegretto finale and makes some sweltering runs but the balance at the end goes utterly haywire with Argerich overpowering Ricci who sounds, if not intimidated, at least somewhat powerless to force his tone. Two powerhouse performers in a hothouse sonata and in the end not a true meeting of minds. I liked the Prokofiev rather more; it requires less work. Light-hearted and easy going there’s a deal of fluency from both players and some introspective lyricism especially in the third movement Andante – one can forget an uncomfortable moment in the finale as a heat of the moment affair. The rest of the disc is devoted to Ricci’s solo items from that 1979 recital: the third Ysaye sonata is broadly in line with his Vox LP of the set of six – this one was dedicated to Enescu – and in the increasingly rowdy atmosphere in august Carnegie Hall (Ricci could certainly raise the temperature) he announces the Paganini God Save The King variations to tumultuous laughter. Yes, his intonation buckles here and there, yes this is a wildly outrageous piece and performance, but those pizzicatos are fearless and delighted anticipatory applause breaks out even before he launches the left hand pizzicato passage. As one would expect after this the audience go delirious with delight. A generous performance of the Gavotte from Bach’s third Partita ends the recital.

The final discs are now devoted exclusively to violin-virtuoso composers - Wieniawski, Ernst, Paganini, Sarasate and Vieuxtemps. Ernst is now so little played and recorded he seems almost entirely to have receded into the race memory of violin gymnasts such as Ricci. The Moravian composer is pitifully represented in the catalogues but it’s not surprising when he is probably known best for the sixth and final of his Polyphonic Studies for solo violin (and the piece he dedicated to Bazzini), the outrageous Last Rose of Summer variations. Once again Ricci’s intonation strays here and there in these devastatingly difficult works and he can struggle a little technically as well – as for example at the top of the register in the third Study but he copes with the Last Rose and also with Wieniawski’s little but tricky Study Caprices. The Paganini album – No. 8 – is for violin and guitar, played with suggestive support by Stefano Cardi. These are broadly lyrical and affectionate pieces, some culled from the Sonatas, and full of melodic grace. The Cantabile in D major is dispatched with affectionate ease, the whistling section of Nel cor piu nicely caught – and sustained – tone production good in the Waltz and lyricism aplenty in the Minuet and Adagio of the First Sonata of the Op. 2 set. Charm is a strong suit of Ricci’s when he cares to deploy it and deploy it he does in abundance in the opening of the Op. 3 No. 2 Sonata and his effortless lyricism is heard to captivating advantage in the Andante of the Op. 3 No. 6 work. His harmonics are fearless in the Bravura Variations – No. beating around the bush by Paganini – and the whole recital a joy from beginning to end.

When it comes to Sarasate Ricci is equally a master of the virtuoso syntax. How superbly he conveys the sense of the lyric direction of a phrase in the Rumanian Melody and how splendid is the clarity of his articulation, extrovert but not too forced, in the Serenata Andalusa. Fancy some pungent scintillation? Try Ricci’s Jota de Pablo – vibrant, red hot, rhythmically flexible, a real he-man of the violin world in action. And then comes the unsettled shimmering intangibility of the uneasily titled The Song of the Nightmare. Graeme McNaught is the excellent accompanist in this 1992 recital. The final disc gives us Vieuxtemps and a little conundrum – No. pianist is listed. I’ve assumed it was Marco Vincenzi but I stand to be corrected and Dynamic should make amends as soon as possible. I also think there’s a cut in the Ballade and Polonaise and something has gone badly wrong with the timing on this track and with the tracking of subsequent pieces – the Polonaise is actually separately banded but the sleeve details don’t show it and all subsequent tracks are thus one track out. Which will come as a shock if you want to hear the delicate Innocence and instead are confronted by the rudery of the Yankee Doodle variations. Nevertheless despite the production slippage in this final disc – disappointing – there’s still Ricci in commanding form – full of loping charm in the Rondino, lyric intensity in the Reverie, and coping with the endless cadenza that is Vieuxtemps’ tribute to Paganini, his Hommage à Paganini. And, not without reason, certainly not without justice, the recital and the disc and the set ends with the high jinks of Yankee Doodle, a fitting end to a celebratory box that honours its subject with a degree of open mindedness and style.

Not everything here is clean as a whistle and fluent – that’s just not Ricci’s way. There are frailties and weakness and blind spots. The sonata recitals are hardly models of consistency. There is a lot of apparently academic disinterment of violin studies, which may not be to the general taste. But it’s to Ricci’s taste and that’s what matters. He has ploughed his own furrow and sought freedom and satisfaction in ways other fiddle players would never think of searching out. He has lived dangerously – tonally, expressively – and survived. His vibrancy may not be to all tastes and equally convincing in all of the repertoire but it is unmistakably Ricci and passionately alive. So here’s a salute to Ruggiero Ricci – a ten CD box full of some coruscating delights.

Jonathan Woolf


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.