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Alban BERG (1885-1935)
Violin Concerto, To the Memory of an Angel (1935) [25:22]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Violin Concerto (1931) [22:44]
Christian Ferras (violin)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Ernest Ansermet
rec. live, Victoria Hall, Geneva, 3 April 1957 (Berg), 5 October 1966 (Stravinsky). DDD
CLAVES 50-2516 [48:24]

Despite a difference of fifty years between them, Ferras and Ansermet were bound by the strongest of musical ties, and most especially in the concertos on this CD. The chemistry which attracted both of them to these composers, and to each other as champions of their music, is self-evident from these passionate performances. As such this issue should be of wide interest to collectors.

The recording of the Berg is in good mono although the orchestra does quite a good job of hiding behind Ferras’s Stradivarius on occasion. The performance is white-hot however, and the youthful Ferras is on excellent form. The CD booklet is nicely presented, with a variety of photos of Ferras in action at all ages. It is also informative about his tragically truncated career, and about his profound feeling for the heartbreaking story behind Berg’s masterpiece. Ferras played this concerto on many occasions all over the world. That sense of his having the piece ‘under his skin’ comes over explicitly in this recording. The booklet quotes Alöys Mooser’s review of the concert on 3 April, which sums up Ferras’s achievement: ‘…the real beauty of his playing is rooted in his astounding sensitivity, intelligence and sovereign authority. The young French violinist has an innate sense of expression that one rarely observes in artists of his age.’

Nine years later, and the Stravinsky possesses a little more stereo information and range, but of course neither of these recordings are ‘hi-fi’ by current, or even contemporary studio standards. The balance is a little better here however, and the quicksilver orchestration of the accompaniment comes across well enough. That said, this is very much Ferras’s performance. He had in 1966 only recently taken the Stravinsky piece into his repertoire, and this helps give the concerto a freshly-minted feel. His emotional expression in the third Aria II is almost impossible to bear – he manages to wring out a disturbing amount of grief which goes beyond poignancy, as if singing for every soul lost in war.

This is both specialist and non-specialist terrain. Fans of Ferras will want it as a matter of course, but collectors will be hard put to find performances or recordings of either of these works which exceed this unique violinist’s expressive abilities. I take note of past criticism of his sometimes abrasive tone and fast vibrato, but find myself impressed and amazed by the variety of colour in these performances. The vibrato question is one of taste, even of fashion, and I find it perfectly natural in this setting – especially since Ferras’s intonation is superbly accurate, especially in the Berg. Despite the admitted sonic drawbacks and the brevity of the content this CD represents historical documents of a renowned artist at the top of his form in two of the best violin concerti ever written. As such it creates its own strong demands for a place in the catalogue.

Dominy Clements



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