Jean Ter-Merguerian (violin)
The Soul of the Violin
rec. 1961-1999
RHINE CLASSICS RH-016 [5 CDs: 368:33]

If you browse the catalogues looking for commercial recordings of the French-Armenian violinist Jean Ter-Merguerian, you’ll do so without much success. He wasn’t enamoured of studio recordings, performances set in stone didn’t appeal. Once again, Rhine Classics have come to the rescue with an impressive cache of rare material in the form of live and radio recordings. There’s one sole treasure from the commercial side of things, a sonata for violin and piano by Gérard Gasparian, licenced by the composer from a Timpani CD (1C1055).

Ter-Merguerian began life in Marseille on 5 October 1935. His initial violin studies were with his father, before entering the city’s conservatory. By 11 he’d clinched first prize and went on to perform concertos by Vivaldi and Mendelssohn. The family relocated to Yerevan, Armenia in 1947, and he took up his studies with Karp Dombayev. The next significant milestone occurred in the 1956 Prague Spring Competition where he won a prize. There followed major successes at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the Queen Elisabeth in Brussels and the Long-Thibaud Competition in Paris. Meanwhile he’d become a student of David Oistrakh at the Moscow Conservatory. His studies completed he embarked on a career as a soloist and pedagogue. He died of cancer at his home in Marseille on 29 September 2015.

CD 1 opens with a lovely performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto, taped live in Boston on 13 June 1975. The BSO is conducted by Arthur Fielder and the concert marked Ter-Merguerian’s American debut. It’s an emotionally charged performance, with Fielder pointing up the mastery of the scoring, and cultivating a lush orchestral sound, especially in the strings. The soloist performs on an Andrea Guarneri violin, which has a silken tone. You can’t fail to be won over by the wonderful poise and elegance of his playing and, throughout, his impeccable musicianship shines through. The Kreisler cadenza is used. The slow movement is a bucolic idyll of spiritual tranquility, with the solo oboe nicely profiled. The finale is exhilarating and packs a punch. Fast forward to 1983 and the violinist is joined by Yvan Chiffoleau on cello and Pierre Barbizet on piano for a riveting performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. There’s no jostling for centre stage between the three soloists, and each is given his moment in the sun. A good balance is struck throughout.

There follows a violin and piano recital given at the Théâtre municipal, Carcassonne in February 1982. Carcassonne, situated in southern France’s Languedoc area, is a fortified city. The pianist is Monique Oberdoerffer. After some applause and tuning, retained to evoke the live experience, the duo launch into Brahms’ melodically rich Violin Sonata No. 1. The opener has a beguiling Arcadian charm, whilst the slow movement is heartfelt and sincere, with Oberdoerffer achieving a tone of autumnal radiance. The ‘Regenlied’ finale is passionate and noble of gesture. Ter-Merguerian doesn’t score as well in the Bach Chaconne. His tone seems thin and underpowered in places and doesn’t convey the organ-like sonorities I admire in Heifetz. He does, however, elicit a more robust tone in Ysayë’s Solo Sonata No.3 in D minor ‘Ballade’ in a live recording from 1998. In the Mozart B flat Sonata, K378, Oberdoerffer strikes me as being a very fine Mozart player, especially in the slow movement, where she traces the long lines with an attractive refined purity. Ter-Merguerian is especially fluent in the double-stop passages of Saint-Saëns’ Havaiaise, and there’s some impressive flourishes in the closing pages. The intonation is spotless. The two Sarasate encores convey a warm Iberian flavour.

Three years later there’s another outstanding recital, this time from Marseille with Pierre Barbizet partnering on piano. It’s an all-Beethoven programme featuring three sonatas. It opens with the D major, Op. 12. No. 1, and this is followed by the weightier C minor, Op. 30, No 2, where the players are fully responsive to the music’s undulating ebb and flow. The slow movement’s outpourings of heartfelt lyricism are captivating. The Kreutzer Sonata is the acme of dramatic intensity, and this potent traversal doesn’t disappoint. It opens with a sufficiently combative first movement, and has a slow movement elegantly moulded. There’s plenty of vim and vigour in the energetic finale. Barbizet announces the encore, which a soothing rendition of the slow movement of the Spring Sonata. The recital fondly recalls the collaborations between Barbizet and Christian Ferras.

On CD 5 Ter-Merguerian revisits his Armenian roots. There’s a 1964 performance of Aram Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto with the Armenian Philharmonic under Michael Maluntsian. A yea-saying and sanguine account, it radiates cheery optimism in the outer movements, and ardent expressiveness in the central. The composer’s Dance in B flat is awash with pizzazz, and Ter-Merguerian’s spiccato positively sparkles. The three Armenian Songs by Komitas are an absolute delight, and conveyed with love and emotion. The audience seem to like them, judging by the enthusiasm of their applause. Ter-Merguerian is partnered by Yerevan-born, pianist-composer Gérard Gasparian for his Violin Sonata. In four movements, the opening Andantino is both pensive and eager. A short Valse, fickle in nature, precedes a somber static Lento. Garparian calls time with a whimsical Scherzo-Finale.

In 1961, Ter-Merguerian took First Prize at the Long-Thibaud Competition in Paris. Henryk Szeryng acted as President of the Jury. As a bonus we have the Rondo finale of the Beethoven Violin Concerto from the live telecast, dated 27 June 1961, followed by a short interview with Szeryng, in which he introduces and speaks to the violinist.

This superb collection, all the more treasured for the rarity value of Ter-Merguerian recordings, has been fondly remastered. Emilio Pessina's restorations have given them new currency. The booklet contains several photos of interest, which preserve the memory of this great, but largely forgotten, artist. This release will win a warm place in the affections of violin fanciers the world over.

Stephen Greenbank


CD1 | 74:14
Johannes Brahms
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (Cadenza: F.Kreisler)
Boston Symphony Orchestra | Arthur Fiedler
recorded: live | Symphony Hall, Boston | 13 June 1975
intro: tuning
Ludwig van Beethoven
Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op.56
Pierre Barbizet, piano | Jean Ter-Merguerian, violin | Yvan Chiffoleau, cello
Orchestre de Cannes-Provence-Côte d’Azur | Philippe Bender
recorded: live | Cour du Conservatoire, Marseille | 30 July 1983

CD2 | 73:05
1982 | Carcasonne | recital with M.Oberdoerffer
applause / tuning
Johannes Brahms
Violin Sonata No.1 in G major, Op.78
Johann Sebastian Bach
Chaconne (from Violin solo Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata (No.26) in B-flat major, K.378/317d
Camille Saint-Saëns
Havanaise in E major, Op.83
Monique Oberdoerffer, piano
recorded: live | Théâtre municipal, Carcasonne | 20 February 1982
CD3 | 67:27
applause / tuning
Pablo de Sarasate
- Playera, Op.23/1 (Spanish Dance No.5 - Book III)
- Caprice basque, Op.24
Monique Oberdoerffer, piano
recorded: live | Théâtre municipal, Carcasonne | 20 February 1982

announce by Jean Ter-Merguerian
Eugène Ysaÿe
Violin solo Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.27/3 “Ballade” (1923)
recorded: live | Marseille | c.1998

1985 | Marseille | recital with P.Barbizet
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.1 in D major, Op.12/1
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30/2
Pierre Barbizet, piano
recorded: live | Eglise du Sacré Coeur, Marseille | 28 June 1985

CD4 | 74:35
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47 “à Kreutzer”
announce by Pierre Barbizet
Violin Sonata No.5 in F major, Op.24 “Spring” : II. Adagio molto espressivo
Pierre Barbizet, piano
recorded: live | Eglise du Sacré Coeur, Marseille | 28 June 1985
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata (No.17) in C major, K.296
Gérard Gasparian, piano
recorded: audience-live | Victoria Hall, Geneva | 19 November 1998
Gérard Gasparian (1960-)
Sonate pour violon et piano (1990) [to Jean Ter-Merguerian]
Gérard Gasparian, piano
recorded: studio | Paris | 1999

CD5 | 79:12
1961 | Paris | 1st Grand Prize “Long – Thibaud Competition”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 : III. Rondò. Allegro (Cadenza: Joseph Joachim)
Henryk Szeryng, jury President, introduces and speaks with Jean Ter-Merguerian
(French interview by RTF after the Beethoven Concerto performance)
Orchestre national de la RTF | Louis Fourestier
recorded: live telecast | Paris | 27 June 1961

1964/71 | Armenian recordings
Aram Khachaturian
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940)
Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra | Michael Maluntsian
recorded: live | Big Hall of Armenian Philharmony, Yerevan | 1964
Aram Khachaturian
- Dance in B-flat major, Op.1 (1925)
- Ayshe’s Dance (“Gayane”, Ballet-Suite No.2) / arr. Mikhael Fikhtengolts
Sergei Prokofiev
Masks (“Romeo and Juliet”, Suite Op.75) / arr. Jascha Heifetz
Pablo de Sarasate
- Habanera, Op.21/2 (Spanish Dance No.2)
- Romanza Andaluza, Op.22/1 (Spanish Dance No.3)
3 Armenian Songs:
- “Akh Maral djan” (Ah, dear Maral) / arr. Aram Shamshyan
- “Qeler-tsoler” (Striding, beaming) / arr. Aram Shamshyan
- “Krunk” (The crane), for Violin solo *
Nelli Daniel-Beck, piano
recorded: studio & live* | Yerevan | c.1968/71