During the course
of my review of IDIS’s La scuola italiani Vol 1 I noted
my hope that the many preserved Ferraresi RAI broadcasts might
one day be issued (see review).
I gave an outline of this unjustly forgotten Italian violinist’s
career as well, so I would draw your attention there for those
matters. I have to say I had no inkling that a nine CD bonanza
would appear a few years later. But here it is. First, though,
a biographical reprise for those who don’t know of him.
Born in 1902 Aldo
Ferraresi was heard by the visiting Czech violinists Vaša Příhoda
and Jan Kubelík who strongly suggested he go to Brussels to
study with Eugène Ysaÿe, a course of action he duly followed.
Whilst he didn't record prolifically, there are some 78s to
his name and a few LPs. These are mainly of genre pieces for
Italian HMV - QDLP6048 and QCLP12025 are the ones to look out
for - and others for Odeon and Storia della Musica. To the vexing
question as to what happened to the Italian violin school between
Arrigo Serato (b. 1877) and Salvatore Accardo (b. 1941) Ferraresi
adds a new dimension. Certainly Gioconda de Vito (b. 1907 and
thus Ferraresi's junior) made her significant mark, not least
in recordings. And Pina Carmirelli (b. 1914), leader of the
Boccherini Quartet, was another prominent figure in Italian
musical life but it's true to say that post-Serato, indeed from
significantly before, the Italian school slumbered for a while.
And yet, like many
another talented musician, Ferraresi's career was somewhat circumscribed
- principally as leader in the Orchestra of San Remo and the
San Carlo theatre, or as first violin in the San Carlo Quartet.
His numerous concerto engagements elevated him to the status,
I suppose, of leader-cum-soloist, though the list of conductors
with whom he worked was prodigious enough - Barbirolli, Knappertsbusch,
Munch, Cluytens, Celibidache and Rodzinski amongst them. His
brother, Cesare, some of whose trio recordings on the Aura label
I have recently reviewed, was another splendid violinist, though
not quite on a par with his older brother, and was a chamber
player and teacher of distinction. The brothers also excelled
at the art of Tango playing and Aldo once poached a small fortune
in his early days with idiomatic performances. Again like many
players he plied his trade from the bottom up - the list of
violinists who played in café or so-called Gypsy bands is a
long and distinguished one.
The material in
this set was broadcast between 1959 and 1973 and there are some
of those earlier commercial 78s included as an appendix. The
sound is variable but generally good with exceptions as noted.
I’ll take the contents disc by disc. The Elgar Concerto
was long known to be amongst the preserved archival material,
and was conducted by Argento in 1966. Once past a strange stereo-mono
buckle early on this settles down nicely. The performance is
very fast, about the fastest I’ve ever heard and to my ears
firmly predicated on the Heifetz model. Ferraresi cuts note
values short in the early part of the first movement with unsatisfactory
results and some of the passagework is unshapely and lacking
in perception. The slow movement however is committed and fine,
the finale intensely driven. The tempo is challenging but I’d
rather a fast one than a languishing one in this concerto. Demerits
also include a lack of heft in tonal matters. The conducting
is first class. The Mozart Turkish concerto with
Carlo Zecchi is played in good style; portamenti are discreet
in the slow movement and his singing, rather edgy tone is not
at all deficient.
The second disc
brings Shostakovich’s First, taped in 1959 with Mario
Rossi. This was an early example of his radio art – in fact
it’s the earliest such here – and shows his dedication to contemporary
works for the violin. He takes a tempo not dissimilar to that
habitually adopted by Kogan though the Italian is broader in
the slow movement. Nevertheless Ferraresi is less dextrously
colourful than Russian players. He was a Franco-Belgian player
and one finds repeatedly that he doesn’t dig into the string
as Auer pupils or other more modern tonalists do. In this respect
I’d point to the playing in this work of Oistrakh and Kogan
– whose powerful incision is not mirrored by Ferraresi – and
by analogue the Delius playing of Sammons and May Harrison;
the former who digs powerfully into the string and the latter
whose serene elegance is more the kind of thing Ferraresi does.
As a result the Passacaglia takes on a rather different complexity
– one that lacks the obvious sense of “weight.”
Coupled with this
is the Concerto by Mario Guarino. This is a traditional
sounding work and undated, but maybe from the 1950s. It has
some luscious moments, a warm sense of nostalgia, freely expressive
and generous; the finale summons up things Waltonian and also
strange echoes of Rosenkavalier. Ferraresi plays it with
Talking of Walton,
here’s his concerto with Milton Forstat conducting the Milan
RAI orchestra in 1961. Walton is on record as having preferred
the Italian’s playing to that of Campoli – which is saying something
– and he conducted the concerto in Italy in 1953 with Ferraresi;
a photograph of the two men together exists but no recording
so far as I know. Here the model is not Heifetz. Ferraresi is
consistently slower – in fact his approach architecturally reminds
one more of his eminent successor Accardo. Rhapsodic and expressive,
unpressured – both in approach and string weight - and eloquent
this brings a knowing and idiomatic performance. One composer
who did manage to have a performance preserved was Khachaturian.
This was taped in Turin in 1963. The recording fortunately is
not one those blowsy Soviet jobs, and the soloist is not as
spotlit as Kogan and Oistrakh in their preserved readings with
the composer. The reading conforms to one’s expectations – a
lighter, wristier, performance, less intense or oratorical,
less portentous and less truly expressive; the kind of way Thibaud
might have approached it had his concerto repertoire stretched
beyond his statutory single-finger commitments. The two little
works by Savatore Allegra (1898-1993) are unpretentious.
Disc Four gives
us his famous Paganini First; another performance is
on the IDIS disc. His silvery upper voices are always a delight
here – though the lower strings are not quite as forthcoming.
Ultimately one feels depth of tone is missing from his armoury.
The playing really zips along, helped by the fluid, fluent Gallic
bowing. The recording is close-up so we can bowing abrasions;
there’s also a co-ordination problem after the cadenza. Tchaikovsky
(Naples, Delogu, 1968) rushes rather a lot in the first movement
but he withdraws his slim, highly focused tone to advantage
in the Canzonetta. The finale is powerful though marred by instances
of a deficiency of his, some slithery lower string passages.
The disc is completed by the Dvořák Capriccio-Konzertstück
– maybe he’d heard Příhoda play it. It’s little played
but well conducted by the ever-excellent Leopold Ludwig and
Ferraresi finds some new tone colours to shade it.
There is more finger
busting in the fifth disc where we find Paganini’s Fourth
Concerto. Operatic finesse and elegance are here in profusion
alongside some occasionally smeary playing when he starts to
emote. The bowing is a worthy of a master class in itself. Bazzini’s
own Fourth Concerto follows – an acrobatic and aerial opus strong
on quasi-operatic vocalism. Dynamic variance and shading are
the keys to the slow movement and with fine, up-front winds
this is an excellent performance. I don’t know much about Jachino’s
Sonata dramamtica – once again with Forstat, this time from
Rome in 1960. It’s a one-movement work but clearly cast into
three sections. It’s predominately lyrical, well structured
and ends with a Straussian sunset – a good vehicle for Ferrraresi.
Disc six is exclusively
Iberian-Italian. Franco Mannino died in 2005. His Paganini-inspired
ten-minute Capriccio dei Capricci is rather an odd work; it
mixes direct quotation with, once more, some Straussian richness
and a degree of frantic orchestral response and then a cataclysmic
end. Mario Guarino’s Violin Sonata is much more digestible
though not necessarily more distinctive. Its tonal and lyrical
profile seemingly fitted Ferraresi’s temperament very nicely
and the puckish finale is a delight. It is however subject to
some tape problems – a degree of wow. I’ve read about Alfano’s
1923 Sonata but this was my first hearing. I can’t tell if Ferrraresi
was driving through it with characteristic vitesse – because
elsewhere I’ve read reports of its “forty-minute” length – but
he certainly reveals its Delius-like moments - it would have
been most intriguing had Ferrraresi performed the Delius Concerto.
Trace elements of Respighi and Grieg No.3 as well – and a meaty
slow movement, excellently realised by the violinist and the
fine Ernesto Galdieri. The Turina is lissom and convincing.
There’s more Turina
in the seventh disc, his El Poema de una Sanluqueña. The
purposeful terpsichorean elements of this are convincingly met
by the duo, who show a real affinity for the genre. Maybe the
Strauss sonata could do with a more youthful burnish
but it’s certainly not the over-cautious and frankly phlegmatic
vehicle it seems to have become in the hands of some of the
more youthful of today’s players. Holler’s Music for
violin and piano is impressive in its absorption of neo-baroque
models. The short, yet austerely lyric sections are splendidly
performed, the violinist’s light and elegant playing a real
help in the many moments of elastic refinement.
volume is devoted to more sonata work. Fauré’s First
Sonata surprised me given the violinist’s pedigree. It exaggerates
an occasional weakness of his, which is a rather tremulous and
unfocused tone. Intonation wanders as well in a sluggish and
unconvincing traversal with false entries and too-slow portamenti.
Perhaps he was having a bad day. The Kreutzer sonata
was taped in 1970. This was recorded close to the microphone
so the brittle and resinous attacks are audible. Phrasing in
the central movement is gracioso though there are bowing
troubles at 3:48. The finale is underpowered. In general these
two performances don’t show him at his best.
Disc nine is our
quest’s end. There are some 78s, rather roughly transferred.
The Bazzini is ridiculously rushed and truncated and in general
the repertoire is inspired by Příhoda – including the Czech
player’s own Rosenkavalier transcription. The remainder of the
disc is devoted to the important business of works by Ferraresi’s
teacher, Ysaÿe. These, however, have been badly compromised
by wobbly tape and this plays small havoc. The Concerto – an
early, undated work – emerges unscathed full of pert, luscious
and playful playing. The Poème Élégiaque Op.12 unfortunately
suffers from tape problems, which is a shame as it sounds otherwise
impressive. You will need to listen through these problems because
Ferraresi has important things to impart on the subjects of
lineage and style in this repertoire.
These nine CDs have
been produced by the Comitato per I Grandi Maestri in collaboration
with RAI. The “Gigli of the Violin” has been given a worthy
tribute in this comprehensive collection. The notes are in Italian
and English – three pages of biographical information in English.
The box is basic but does the job; each disc is in its individual
plastic sheath. Of course this is specialist territory; if you’ve
read this much you’ll know that as well as I. Ferraresi was
a rather fascinating character and these performances, even
when flawed, invariably show spontaneity and excitement. Full
marks to Professor Gianluca La Villa for doing so much to further
Ferraresi’s memory and working with RAI to ensure that these
broadcasts reach a wider audience. Contact him for further information.