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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1903 rev. 1905) [31:15]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Symphonia domestica, Op.53 (1903) [42:21]
Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. February 1959 (Strauss) and January 1960 (Sibelius), Symphony Hall, Boston

Ruggiero Ricci made his Boston debut in January 1960 with the Sibelius Concerto, a performance that now appears in Pristine Audio’s XR marque. He’d recorded it in London with Fjeldstad for Decca, so the work was something of a calling card for him at the time, and indeed for some considerable time afterwards. Ricci was now 40 and a mature artist and was accompanied by Charles Munch, not a first call name for this composer and one who, indeed – possibly as predicted – shows himself to be a Sibelius interpreter of rather erratic disposition.

Brass is prone to be startlingly eruptive and the percussion section is certainly given its head. To what extent XR has exaggerated or merely drawn this out I can’t say but it sounds to me as if Munch’s control of dynamics is less than optimal. Ricci’s typically fast vibrato is on show, his tone sinewy and masculine, but he was never a speed merchant; he had technique to burn and could have coiled his way rapidly had he so wished but has the musicality and discretion not to do so. His plasticity of phrasing in the slow movement is notable – it’s the opposite of expressively reserved, it’s true. He has little of the Nordic approach of his fellow American Camilla Wicks, for example. The tension in the finale is whipped up too much, too early by Munch; in the battle of wills the soloist ploughs his laudable, personalised furrow and the conductor goes his own way. Hardly satisfactory as a meeting of musical minds but a searingly eruptive Bostonian evening, nonetheless.

If one doesn’t associate Munch with Sibelius, the same is equally true of Richard Strauss. This 1959 broadcast is a much more convincing meeting of conductor and composer though even here there are tentative elements - insofar as Symphonia domestica can really be an index of a conductor’s mastery of Strauss’ language and expressive range. Yet, whilst Munch isn’t known on disc for Strauss – excepting, say, his accompanying of Piatigorsky in Don Quixote - he clearly had an on-off thing for Symphonia domestica as he’d included it in his 1949 season in Boston; his very first season, in fact. It’s a reading that takes on a greater weight as the work develops and shows not only that the Boston orchestra was in ripe instrumental shape but that the recorded sound, in stereo as is the Sibelius, was alluring too. Of the two performances this is by far the more comprehensively successful.

Radio introductions, and tuning up, have been retained, and so has the outro to the Strauss.

Jonathan Woolf

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