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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata for Violin Solo No. 2 in A minor, BWV 1003 [20:28]
Sonata for Violin Solo No. 3 in C major, BWV 1005 [21:58] Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 10/1 ‘Devil’s Trill’ [12:44] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata in A major, K.526 [18:03]
Christian Ferras (violin)
Pierre Barbizet (piano)
rec. 29 February 1956 (BWV 1003, Tartini), 12 February 1957 (Mozart), Frankfurt, Raum 1/D, Hessischer Rundfunk, 3 February 1960 (BWV 1005) Frankfurt, Sendesaal, Hessischer Rundfunk MELOCLASSIC MC 2001 [73:09]
Meloclassic, a new label to hit the marketplace, was founded in Germany in December 2013. It’s aim is the release of ‘previously unissued historical recordings of live radio performances’, considered to be of artistic value. The initial catalogue which, I am told, has taken a year to compile, consists of fifty-five titles. Ten new releases will be released each quarter. Also on the agenda is the exciting prospect of DVDs of unreleased historical television programmes – a mouth-watering prospect.
On offer here are radio broadcasts recorded between 1956 and 1960 of the French violinist Christian Ferras. He was born in Le Touquet, France in 1933. Starting violin lessons with his father, he entered the Conservatoire de Nice aged eight and from there progressed to the Paris Conservatoire in 1944, where he won prizes for violin and chamber music. For a time, Georges Enesco was his mentor. His early years were spent travelling the world giving concerts. He represents the very best attributes of the Franco-Belgian School. His life ultimately ended tragically. Battling alcoholism and depression from the mid-sixties onwards, his career suffered as a result. He did, however, accept a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire in 1975, and made a comeback to concert-giving in the early part of 1982. Yet, this rehabilitation was to be short-lived. Tragically on 14 September 1982, he took his own life at the relatively young age of 49 – a tremendous loss.
What is immediately evident when listening to these recordings is the lush, tonal beauty Ferras produces. His bow arm is capable of drawing a large-scaled sonority. This sumptuous tone is well suited to the solo Bach Sonatas featured here. He brings to these a rough hewn and earthy quality. Intonation has a dead-centre accuracy, and phrasing and dynamics are all delivered with stylistic fidelity to the score. In the fugues the contrapuntal strands are teased out with clarity. It’s big-boned playing. There is a very fine set of the complete solo Sonatas and Partitas which the violinist recorded in the USA in 1977 on the Ages label (509 008) — well worth tracking down.
In the remaining items, Ferras is partnered by the French pianist Pierre Barbizet. They met in 1949 when the violinist won second prize in the International Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition. Theirs was a distinguished partnership which lasted for many years. They recorded the complete sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven; for me a highlight of this famous partnership.
The Ferras “Devil’s Trill’ is captivating, with drama and élan. The crisp articulation of the ‘trill’ second movement calls to mind Szeryng’s performance with Charles Reiner; Ferras plays the original version, whereas Szeryng, if my memory serves me correctly, uses the Kreisler arrangement. The Mozart sonata is imbued with grace and charm. As with all his performances, it is marked by good taste. He brings a fervent quality to the second movement, an expressive shaping of phrases very much in the manner of Menuhin. Maybe it was the influence of Enesco.
Unlike some of the violinists featured in the Meloclassic’s catalogue, the Ferras discography of both live and commercial recordings is relatively large. On the plus side, the recordings here are first CD releases, augmenting his live discography. Many will be familiar with his collaborations with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in which he recorded the Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius concertos, the highpoint in his recording career. These have never been out of the catalogue and are still regarded highly.
Sound quality for these late-fifties broadcasts is exceptionally clear and well-defined. They have been re-mastered using high-quality master tapes. The CD comes in a well-constructed, space-saving Digipak case. Three pages of liner notes, in English, give a biographical portrait of the artist, together with a selection of black and white photographs.
All told, this is a valuable addition to the Ferras discography, and will be warmly welcomed by violin aficionados like myself.