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If you're a Ruggiero Ricci fan, then the news is good. The Taiwan-based Rhine Classics has released three box-sets of live recitals and broadcasts featuring the violinist, who died in 2012 aged ninety-four. There's a 6-CD box of concerto performances, and two 4-CD sets of sonatas and showpieces. It's the latter I will turn my attention to in this review. The notes state that the entire project is “dedicated to and realized under the auspices of Mme Julia Ricci, Ruggiero's wife". It was in the showpiece genre that I first became acquainted with the artist’s playing - a Decca Eclipse LP in which he was accompanied by his one-time teacher Louis Persinger and Ernest Lush. The recitals in this new release span forty years, and derive from live concerts and studio recordings set down between 1946 and 1986. Much of the material is appearing on CD for the first time.
During World War II, Ricci played for the troops without a piano or orchestra at his disposal. This set him on the road to explore the instrument's solo repertoire, of which Paganini became centre-stage. Other composers whose solo works interested him included Bach, Kreisler, Ysa e, Wieniawski and Bartˇk. So, he became a champion of the solo recital. I was lucky enough to attend one of these events at the Buxton Festival, UK in the late eighties. The lion’s share of performances in this set, all of CDs 1 and 4, and items on CDs 2 and 3, is music for solo violin.
In 1947, Ricci became the first violinist to record the complete cycle of Paganini's 24 Caprices, now a staple of the concert violinist’s repertoire. His discography includes eight official traversals (6 audio, 2 video). CD 4 includes another from a live concert from the Teatro Comunale, Monfalcone on 21 November 1986 and taped, with the artist's consent, by the producer of this set Emilio Pessina. Ricci is performing on his 'Gibson’, ex-Huberman' Guarneri del Ges¨. He tweaks the ordering as follows: 6-12, 1-5, intermission, then 13-24. By this late stage in his career, his tone sounds rather rough hewn, and the fingered octaves, especially in nos. 7 and 10, reveal some intonation lapses. Sometimes I feel he could have lavished more expressiveness on the lyrical sections. Nevertheless, the Ricci brilliance and pyrotechnical skill shines through. The two encores by Wieniawski and Kreisler provide an impressive flourish to end the recital.
Ysa e’s Solo Sonata No.4 in E minor, Op.27/4, a favourite of the violinist, is heard in three performances: one from 1946 and two from 1953. Dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, the shadow of Bach lurks in the shadows. The technically challenging third movement is a relentless tour-de-force despatched with consummate bravura. The Grave of Bach’s Solo Sonata No. 2 in A minor, which opens the collection, taped in Town Hall New York, 12 November 1946, I found lifeless and pedestrian. Fortunately this affliction doesn’t affect the work’s other three movements. Ricci is on top form in Paganini’s ‘Nel cor pi¨ non mi sento’ Variations, and it’s one of the highlights of the set for me. The performance is from Stuttgart 1953, and the piece showcases the violinist’s impressive technical arsenal to perfection with double-stops, harmonics, staccatos with real bite and crisp left-hand pizzicatos. It doesn’t get any better than this.
There are a couple of solo violin rarities. From his 1947 Carnegie Hall recital there's a Sonata in three movements by the American composer Vittorio Giannini, which was dedicated to Ricci. The beguiling central Cantabile is seductively spun, and it's followed by a mesmerizing moto perpetuo. Francesco Geminiani's Solo Sonata in B flat, from Stuttgart 1953, a work of disputed provenance, has a fervent Affetuoso third movement preceding a foot-tapping gigue finale. The slightly more familiar Hindemith Solo Sonata, marries blocky angularity with moments of expressive lyricism.
As to the works with piano accompaniment, in the 1947 Carnegie Hall recital Ricci's partner is Bernard Frank. The Tarantella third movement of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, minus the Scherzino (Presto), is rhythmically invigorating with some well-defined staccato bowing. Jean Hubeau’s Violin Concerto dates from 1939, and was written especially for Henri Merckel, who premiŔred it in Paris on March 30, 1941. We hear it here with a piano reduction of the orchestral score. It's a delightful work, which proffers a wealth of lyricism and melodic invention. The Korngold-like central Andante sereno is tenderly phrased. The lusty finale gives free rein to Ricci's consummate virtuosity. In Kreisler's La Chasse, the staccato double-stops have superior bite, and intonation is dead of centre. Similar attributes are evident in the violinist's own arrangement of Abram Chasins' Etude in C-sharp minor. Ricci is on home turf in Paganini's La Campanella, a performance both intrepid and daring.
Otto Alfons is the pianist in two items from a 1950 Frankfurt recital. There's a sultry, gypsy-infused rendering of Sarasate's Romanza Andaluza. In the I Palpiti Variations, Ricci summons every violinistic resource in a veritable coup de maţtre. Twenty years later in Athens, Ricci performs Tartini's 'Devil’s Trill’ in an arrangement by Kreisler. A fine interpretation, where the pianist is Kostas Kidoniatis.
The recordings have been excellently restored and remastered by Emilio Pessina. All told this is a priceless collection and a valuable addition to the artist's discography.
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf Contents CD1 | 63:23 Johann Sebastian Bach
- Violin solo Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003: 3. Andante – 4. Allegro EugŔne Ysa e
- Violin solo Sonata No.4 in E minor, Op.27/4 (1923) -to F. Kreisler- Paul Hindemith
- Violin solo Sonata (No.3), Op.31/2 “… Es ist so sch÷nes Wetter drau▀en…” (1924) Fritz Kreisler
 Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice, for solo violin, Op.6 (1911) -to E. Ysa e- Niccol˛ Paganini
- Caprices (24) for solo violin, Op.1 / (1802/17): Nos. 5, 7, 22, 24
bis/encores: Johann Sebastian Bach
 Violin solo Partita No.3 in E major, BWV 1006: 1. Preludio Henryk Wieniawski
 źEtudes-Caprices╗ (8) for violin solo, Op.18 (1862): 4. Tempo di Saltarella
recorded: live | Town Hall, New York | 21 November 1946
original acetates | first release of remastered audio Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966)
- Violin solo Sonata No.1 (1940)
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 5 October 1947
(world premiŔre | work dedicated to Ruggiero Ricci)
CD2 | 68:12 Igor Stravinsky
- Suite italienne, after “Pulcinella” (1933/34) (arr. w. Samuel Dushkin) Jean Hubeau
- Violin Concerto in C major (1939) -piano reduction- Dmitry Kabalevsky
 Improvisation, from “Night of St. Petersburg”, Op.21/1 (1934) (ed. Joseph Szigeti) Fritz Kreisler
 La Chasse, Caprice “in the Style of Cartier” (publ. 1911) Virgil Thomson
 Spinning Song, No.7 from 10 Piano Etudes (1944) (arr. R. Ricci) Darius Milhaud
 Le printemps, for violin and piano, Op.18 (1914)
 Farandoleurs, for violin and piano, Op.262 (1946) Abram Chasins
 Etude in C-sharp minor, No.3 from 3 Pieces Op.6 (1925) (arr. R. Ricci) Franz von Vecsey
 Caprice No.1 in A minor “Le Vent” (1916) Niccol˛ Paganini
 La Campanella (Rond˛ from Concerto No.2 Op.7) (arr. Paul Kochanski) FrÚdÚric Chopin
 Nocturne No.20 in C-sharp minor, Op.posth. (arr. Nathan Milstein) Henryk Wieniawski
 źL’╔cole Moderne╗, (9) ╔tudes-Caprices for violin solo, Op.10 (1854): 4. Le Staccato
Bernard Frank, piano
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 5 October 1947
original acetates | first release of remastered audio
CD3 | 74:21 Pablo de Sarasate
 Romanza Andaluza, Op.22 No.1 (1878) Niccol˛ Paganini
 “I Palpiti” for violin and piano, Op.13 / M.S. 77 (1819)
Otto Alfons Graef, piano
recorded: studio | Altes Funkhaus, Frankfurt | 20 September 1950 | original master Francesco Geminiani
- Violin solo Sonata in B-flat major, IFG 24 (ed. Mario Corti) EugŔne Ysa e
- Violin solo Sonata No.4 in E minor, Op.27/4 (1923) Niccol˛ Paganini
 “Nel cor pi¨ non mi sento” for solo violin, M.S. 44 (1827)
recorded: studio | SDR, UntertŘrkheim, Stuttgart | 17 January 1953 | original master EugŔne Ysa e
- Violin solo Sonata No.4 in E minor, Op.27/4 (1923)
recorded: studio | Wartburg, SaarbrŘcken | 7 February 1953 | original master Giuseppe Tartini
- Sonata in G minor, B.g5 “The Devil’s Trill” (arr. & Cadenza by Fritz Kreisler) Niccol˛ Paganini
 La Campanella (Rond˛ from Concerto No.2 Op.7) (arr. Paul Kochanski) Bedrich Smetana
 From the Homeland, (2) Pieces for violin and piano JB 1:118: 2. Andantino
Kostas Kidoniatis, piano
recorded: studio | Hellenic Radio, Athens | July 1970 | original master
CD4 | 74:10 Niccol˛ Paganini
- Caprices (24) for solo violin, Op.1 / M.S. 25 (1802/17) “alli artisti” – complete unedited performance, bis/encores, announced by Ruggiero Ricci: Henryk Wieniawski
 źL’╔cole Moderne╗, (9) ╔tudes-Caprices for solo violin, Op.10 (1854): 4. Le Staccato Fritz Kreisler
 Scherzo-Caprice, for solo violin, from Op.6 (1911)
recorded: live | Teatro Comunale, Monfalcone, Italy | 21 November 1986 | original master