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Sporting six CDs this is the largest of the three sets celebrating the centenary of the birth of Ruggiero Ricci. The recordings preserve tuning up and applause and have been remastered in 24bit 96kHz to provide over seven hours of listening charting the violinist between the years 1951 and 1978. Most of the concerto performances are captured live whilst some others are heard in studio readings. Two concertos are heard in duplicate performances; the Brahms and Paganini’s D major, No.1.
The odyssey begins with Dvořák’s A minor from 1951 with the ever-dependable Hans Müller-Kray. I had quite a lot to say about Ricci’s way with this concerto when his recording with Susskind was released so I won’t reprise that, as my opinion hasn’t changed and I’m still uneasy with his quivery, sentimentalised playing. He must have played the Brahms many times but it wasn’t until late in his career in 1991 when he was 73 that he recorded it with Norman Del Mar for Biddulph – the recording where he played the multiple cadenzas written for it. Here with Henri Pensis he employs the Joachim. Once again, the sound is good and the performance much superior to the companion concerto. Ricci’s pacing is sane and thoughtful, and his tone glints tight, and whilst this means he lacks optimum variety of tone colour it also stops the music wallowing. The oboe solo in the central movement is slightly recessive and the orchestral ensemble is not always the best but Ricci’s slashing vitality is at its most pronounced in the finale which receives requisite rhythmic vitality.
The second disc presents a broadcast performance of Paganini’s First Concerto from Carnegie Hall (Schippers, New York Philharmonic, 1958). His recording of the work with Anthony Collins on Decca is well-known and featured in the 5-CD Original Masters box dedicated to Ricci. It’s still the best place to go because despite typically bravura playing from the soloist the sound is very congested mono. Things move to Lincoln Center in 1963 for the world premiere of Ginastera’s Violin Concerto, a work commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and dedicated jointly to Ricci and Leonard Bernstein. The sound here is a big improvement, though still not perfect, and the soloistic and orchestral commitment to be heard in this reading is overwhelming. Whether in that arresting from-the-word-go cadenza or in the phantasmagoria of the percussive gestures, or the curdled passion of the central Adagio, this is one of the set’s real highlights. Don’t miss the Paganinian dreamscape quotations or the blistering perpetuum mobile finale. The occasional restlessness of the audience can be overlooked. It’s often forgotten that Ricci encouraged composers, and that he commissioned and first performed a number of important new works.
It’s no disrespect to Stravinsky to say that his Concerto sounds positively ascetic programmed next to Ginastera but with the alert Dean Dixon directing in Frankfurt, Ricci turns in a performance of intensity; Aria I has depth as well as agility in Ricci’s hands. He recorded the Goldmark with the Luxembourg Radio under de Froment though a Müller-Kray recording survives with the South West German Radio Orchestra. Unlike the Dvořák he inevitably played the Goldmark well with fine legato and not too intense a tone. Elements of the slow movement sound rather aggressive but that’s more to do with the Munich Philharmonic under Jan Koetsier but he plays this and the finale – the cadenza is separately tracked – very adeptly. It’s a reading dissimilar to Milstein’s patrician control and to that of my own lodestar, the great Bronislaw Gimpel, whose live recording with Pensis in 1951 brings an aching and unequalled sense of regret and romanticism. I’m afraid I’ve never got on with Jaques-Dalcroze’s Concerto which I find haphazard and balletic but if anyone were to convince me it would be Ricci. He never recorded this commercially and his playing is admirably confident, splendidly direct and has the advantage of superior accompaniment from the Suisse Romande and Ansermet in 1965.
Disc Four contains never broadcast unedited tapes (Sibelius and Brahms) direct from the Hollywood Bowl. They are ½ track monos taken down on Ampex tape recorders and employed only one microphone. They are not airchecks and have been transferred from the original tapes. Ricci’s famous recording of the Sibelius with Fjeldstad and the LSO has been supplemented by little-known live performances from Bochum and Helsinki, but this one now expands the surviving examples to a quartet. Add to this, of course, Ricci’s brave recordings of many of Sibelius’ morceaux, such as Opp. 2, 79, 81, 106, 115 and 116. This is a reading of tensile and rugged masculinity with Hans Swarowsky, who admittedly doesn’t sound an ideal Sibelian, directing the LA Philharmonic. Far from the purity of Ignatius, the immaculate froideur of Heifetz or the gypsy pyrotechnics of Spivakovsky, Ricci asserts primary masculine values in this work and is rewarded with nearly three minutes of applause. (Note that none of the applause is reflected in the timings of any of these performances. The timings relate specifically to the music.) The Brahms is with Eugen Jochum and the same orchestra two years later in 1967. This is a better-played interpretation than the Pensis of a decade earlier whilst Jochum is on balance just a bit tighter in tempo but there’s little in it.
The second recording of the Paganini takes one forward to 1975 where Heribert Esser conducts in very reasonable stereo. Ricci performs with the same level of bravado and accomplishment as in Carnegie Hall but the sound is immeasurably better; he plays the same Sauret cadenza too so this is the preferable performance. He self-announces (very briefly) the God Save the King encore. Paganini’s Op. posth, the Concerto No.6 in E minor, shares disc space on disc five (American Symphony/Kazuyoshi Ayiyama, October 1977). The work is heard in the reconstruction by Mompellio and Fiore published in 1973 and, sporting Ricci’s own (splendid) cadenza, is encountered here in its American premiere. Whatever critics may have thought about this reconstruction it gets from Ricci a sumptuously full-bloodied reading and he brings real life to the longish first movement.
The final disc unveils more Paganini – it’s Ricci, what did you expect? No.4 is heard in good stereo though the strings of Ernest Bour’s orchestra can sound over-bright. The conductor is a decided asset, however, and Ricci dispatches his own cadenza with expected authority, and the slow movement with artful legato, summoning up the shade of his 1970 recording of this with the RPO and Bellugi for CBS. In Bern with Kletzki in 1965 he performs the Glazunov Concerto. You may well know the Turnabout LP he made of this with Peeters and here he plays with similar sympathy. He may not be the patrician that Milstein was but there’s something powerfully honest about his ardent exploration of the slow movement and the intensified vibrato usage he brings to it. The final work in the set is another newcomer to his discography, the Concerto No.1 of Carlos Heinrich Veerhoff, written in 1976 and dedicated to Ricci. He premiered it in Bremen in January 1977 and gave this performance of it with the Bavarian Radio under Christobal Halffter in October 1978. Opening with solo pizzicati it’s unconventional structurally like the Ginastera, which may well have appealed to Ricci. Essentially traditional but significantly terse in places this post-Bergian work sports a pawky Capriccio with some amusing bowing conundrums and an intense Adagio. It’s an intriguing concerto, superbly played. Can we look forward to his performance of the von Einem Concerto some time?
All three boxes have attractive booklets with full recording details and attractively reproduced photographs. Emilio Pessina’s mastering is first class once again. Despite the repertoire duplication – which some may actually welcome - and the occasional weakness of performance or recording, these three sets, available separately, are a worthy and significant addition to Ricci’s discography.
CD1 | 69:52 Antonín Dvorák
- Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.53 (1880/82)
Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart | Hans Müller-Kray
recorded: studio | Villa Berg SDR, Stuttgart | 25 September 1951 | original master Johannes Brahms
- Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (1878) (Cadenza: Joachim)
RTL Grand Symphony Orchestra (Orchestre Pensis) | Henri Pensis
recorded: studio | RTL, Luxembourg | 23 February 1956 | original master CD2 | 78:51 Niccolò Paganini
- Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 (1816) (Cadenza: Sauret)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra | Thomas Schippers
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 8 November 1958 | broadcast Alberto Ginastera
- Violin Concerto, Op.30 (1963)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra | Leonard Bernstein
recorded: live | Lincoln Center Philharmonic Hall, New York | 3 October 1963 | broadcast
(work commissioned by the NYPO; dedicated to Ruggiero Ricci & Leonard Bernstein | world premiere) Igor Stravinsky
- Violin Concerto in D (1931)
Symphonieorchester des Hessischen Rundfunks | Dean Dixon
recorded: live | Grosse Sendesaal HR, Frankfurt | 23 February 1965 | broadcast CD3 | 67:15 Karl Goldmark
- Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.28 (1877)
Münchner Philharmoniker | Jan Koetsier
recorded: studio | Herkulessaal, Munich | 5 November 1963 | original master Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950)
- Violin Concerto No.1 in C minor, Op.50 (1901)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande | Ernest Ansermet
recorded: live | Victoria Hall, Geneva | 10 March 1965 | original master CD4 | 74:57 Jean Sibelius
- Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1905)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra | Hans Swarowsky
recorded: live | Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles | 13 June 1965 | original master Johannes Brahms
[4- Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (1878) (Cadenza: Joachim)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra | Eugen Jochum
recorded: live | Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles | 13 June 1967 | original master CD5 | 64:57 Niccolò Paganini
- Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 (1816) (Cadenza: Sauret)
bis/encore, announced by Ruggiero Ricci:
 “God save the King” (Heil dir im Siegerkranz), Op.9 / M.S. 56 (1829)
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie Herford | Heribert Esser
recorded: live | Aula der Musikakademie, Detmold | 14 January 1975 | original master Niccolò Paganini
- Violin Concerto No.6 (0) in E minor, Op.ph. (c.1815) (Cadenza: Ricci)
American Symphony Orchestra | Kazuyoshi Akiyama
recorded: studio | Carnegie Hall, New York | 9 October 1977 | original master
(orchestral score reconstructed by Federico Mompellio and Francesco Fiore - published, 1973 | U.S. premiere) CD6 | 75:05 Niccolò Paganini
- Violin Concerto No.4 in D minor, M.S. 60 (1829/30) (Cadenza: Ricci)
Symphonieorchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden | Ernest Bour
recorded: studio | SWF Studio 5, Baden-Baden | 12 February 1974 | original master Alexander Glazunov
- Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82 (1904)
Berner Symphonieorchester | Paul Klecki
recorded: live | Casino, Bern | 12 March 1965 | broadcast Carlos Enrique (Heinrich) Veerhoff
- Violin Concerto No.1, Op.40 (1976)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks | Christobal Halffter
recorded: studio | Herkulessaal BR, Munich | 16 October 1978 | broadcast
(work commissioned by the Philharmonischen Gesellschaft-Bremen and dedicated to Ruggiero Ricci)