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Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
Discovered tapes: Concertos
Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
rec. 1951-1978
RHINE CLASSICS RH-008 [6 CDs: 430:57]

So far, I've savoured the delights on offer in the volumes devoted to showpieces and sonatas (review ~ review). This third volume in Rhine Classics’ Ruggiero Ricci Centenary Edition spotlights the violinist's concerto performances. These derive from live recitals and studio broadcasts aired between 1951 and 1978. Whereas the other volumes were 4 CD sets, this one is more substantial at 6 CDs. An added bonus is that the collection contains some rarities that the artist never set down commercially, such mouth-watering gems as the Paganini Violin Concerto No. 6, and those by Ginastera, Jaques-Dalcroze and Carlos Heinrich Veerhoff. The notes state that the entire project is “dedicated to and realized under the auspices of Mme Julia Ricci, Ruggiero's wife".

I’ll deal with the rarities first. Jointly dedicated to Ricci and Leonard Bernstein, the Ginastera Concerto opens with a lengthy cadenza, which acts as a curtain raiser to a spectacular orchestral entry. This first movement is a set of six variations, which almost act as études exploring different aspects of fiddle technique. The Adagio employs scaled down orchestral forces and tells of much anguish and pain. It's a homage to the NYPO soloists who commissioned the work. The finale, a moto perpetuo, references Paganini's 24th Caprice. The composer throws everything at it, including percussion roulades and onerous virtuosity. Jaques-Dalcroze’s Concerto was recorded two years later in 1965, and Ricci is partnered by Ernest Ansermet at the helm of the OSR. It’s a pleasant and innocuous canvas, though I find it rambling and bogged down with prolixity.

The Veerhoff is sensational. Composed in 1976 and dedicated to Ricci, according to the booklet notes he premiered it a year later with the Bremer Philharmoniker and Hermann Michael on January 24, 1977. That performance can be heard on Youtube. This recording is from 16 October 1978 with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Christobal Halffter. The Concerto is cast in four movements. The first sounds very much like something from the pen of Alban Berg. A Capriccio follows, whose psychedelic effects are quite disconcerting. The atmospheric Adagio creates ethereal and fey effects by eerie chromatic glissandi, and a spiky finale calls time with a coruscating display of energy.

It's interesting to make a comparison between two versions of the same concerto, and we have examples here. The Brahms Concerto performances date from February 1956 and June 1967. Although interpretively very similar, Jochum's marginally tighter tempi, in the later version, work better. Added to this, the sound in this Hollywood Bowl performance has less dryness and more bloom. Ricci plays the Joachim cadenza in both. Paganini's Concerto No. 1, with the spectacular first movement cadenza by Émile Sauret, sees Ricci firmly ensconced in his comfort zone, performing the repertoire he does best. The two live performances were taped in 1958 and 1975 and, once again, the later airing is in better shape. The audience register some enthusiastic applause following the opening movement cadenza in the earlier Carnegie Hall performance. In the 1975 Detmold concert, under the baton of Heribert Esser, the violinist encores with the "God save the King" Variations, which he announces himself.

There are two more Paganini concertos to enjoy. No. 4 is my favorite of them all. I first became acquainted with it via the studio recording made in September 1970, where the violinist is partnered by the RPO and Piero Bellugi. This recording, featuring the Symphonieorchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden under Ernest Bour, is from 1974 and successfully marries bel canto with feats of outlandish technical virtuosity. The rarely performed Sixth Concerto, in a reconstructed version from 1973, receives a glowing account. It certainly deserves to be better known.

What remains is more familiar repertoire, the earliest being a performance of the Dvořák Concerto from 1951 under the direction of Hans Müller-Kray. Ricci projects the lines well in this warm, seductively played reading. It's not short of passionate intensity either when called for. I got to know the Goldmark Concerto from the Perlman/Previn recording, and never quite fathomed out why it's not more frequently programmed. It's a delightful work, suffused with glorious melody, at its centre a ravishingly beautiful slow movement. Ricci and the Munich Philharmonic under Jan Koetsier suitably convey the music's charm in this incandescent traversal from November 1963. Two years later, in 1965, the violinist performed the Glazunov Concerto with Paul Kletzki. It’s a work I dearly love, and the performance in no way disappoints, standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the best I've encountered, including those by Heifetz, Milstein and Perlman. 

The soloist is forwardly profiled in the Sibelius Concerto from the Hollywood Bowl in June 1965. The problem for me here is the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Hans Swarowsky's lacklustre direction comes across as prosaic, resulting in the orchestral part lacking that essential ruggedness and trenchancy, and generally sounding undernourished. A great shame as Ricci's on top form. Anyway, any reservations I have about the performance didn't seem to register on the day, as the audience respond with prolonged and ecstatic applause. Earlier that same year the violinist performed Stravinsky's neo-classical Concerto in Frankfurt with Dean Dixon. It's a robust, bold and muscular reading with much risk-taking. The two central Aria movements are compelling, and there's a plentiful supply of playfulness and glee in the finale.

The excellent 24bit 96kHz remasterings have been expertly realized by the capable hands of Emilio Pessina. The attractive liner embodies a detailed tracklisting with some nicely reproduced photos of Ricci. There's so much to treasure amongst this collection of immeasurable riches.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

CD1 | 69:52
Antonín Dvorák
[1]-[3] 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
[4]-[7] 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
[1]-[4] 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
[5]-[7] 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
[8]-[11] 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
[1]-[4] 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)
[5]-[7] 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
[1]-[3] 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-[7] 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
[1]-[4] Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 (1816) (Cadenza: Sauret)
bis/encore, announced by Ruggiero Ricci:
[5]     “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
[6]-[9] Violin Concerto No.6 (0) in E minor, (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
[1]-[4] 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
[5]-[8] Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82 (1904)
Berner Symphonieorchester | Paul Klecki
recorded: live | Casino, Bern | 12 March 1965 | broadcast
Carlos Enrique (Heinrich) Veerhoff
[9]-[12] 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)

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