Christian Ferras (violin)
Violin Recitals in Hamburg
rec. 1951-1964
MELOCLASSIC MC2043 [79:45 + 76:03]

Christian Ferras was born in Le Touquet, France in 1933. Having initial violin tuition from his father, he entered the Nice Conservatoire aged eight and from there progressed to the Paris Conservatoire in 1944, where he won prizes for violin and chamber music. Georges Enesco was his mentor for a time. His early career was spent travelling the world and giving concerts. His art represents the very best attributes of the Franco-Belgian School with its emphasis on tone, timbre and colour. His life was to end tragically. Battling alcoholism and depression from the mid-sixties onwards, his career suffered as a result. He did, however, accept a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire in 1975, and made a comeback to concert-giving in the early part of 1982. This rehabilitation was only short-lived. Tragically, on 14 September 1982, he took his own life at the age of 49.

I’ve always been a fan of Christian Ferras, and there are many features of his playing which propel him into that elite group of violinists who are gifted with that special something. What’s immediately striking is the tonal beauty, a product of the large-scaled sonority he draws from his bow arm. He also possesses a wide-ranging vibrato, enabling him to confer a kaleidoscopic range of tonal colour on whatever he’s playing; his sound is never one-dimensional or monochrome. The Ferras discography is substantial by any standards, and these live recordings are a welcome addition. This is the second release of Ferras radio recordings from Meloclassic I’ve reviewed.

These radio recordings date from 1951-1964, and showcase the artist from his teenage years until his early thirties, capturing his artistry at its peak before his later struggles began to impinge on his playing. Early on he met the pianist Pierre Barbizet with whom he formed one of the most famous partnerships in the history of piano-violin collaboration. Barbizet partners him throughout these recitals.

The content is divided up between sonatas and encore pieces. CD 1 offers three French sonatas. Each was recorded by the duo commercially, so it’s gratifying to have these alternate live versions. Debussy’s Sonata in G minor was the composer’s last major work, written when he was suffering from the cancer that was to end his life. The performance benefits from Ferras’ overlay of colours and bold impassioned playing. Barbizet provides sensitive support. The Franck is a no holes barred reading, with the passion and ardor flowing from each player in equal measure. It combines dramatic intensity with rhetorical gesture. The sonata has been described as ‘piano friendly’ and I suppose this accounts for its popularity among duos. The heartfelt anguish of the  Recitative-Fantasia third movement is vitally projected, and the finale basks in the music’s rich lyricism. Fauré’s Violin Sonata No 1 in A major has plenty of freshness and character. I applaud the radiant warmth of the slow movement, with the scherzo-like third movement showcasing some sparkling spiccatos. Of the two Mozart Sonatas on CD2, K454 is the most popular and well-loved. The duo bring warmth, elegance and refinement to their Mozart playing, with everything sounding spontaneous and fresh. In the B flat Sonata the outer movements exude joy and excitement, whilst the slow movement’s rapt intensity is nothing short of seductive.

As for the encore pieces, this is a genre Ferras truly excels in. There are several Kreisler pieces, which greatly benefit from the violinist’s opulent tone and colour scheme. Particularly fine is Caprice Viennois, which is bathed in old-world charm and nostalgia, but never oversteps the boundaries of good taste by sounding schmaltzy. Schön Rosmarin impresses for its elasticity of rhythm  and nuance. Yet, the star of the show is Kreisler’s arrangement of Chaminade’s Serenade Espagnole. Here Ferras employs suave, seductive slides and rubato to spice up this technically demanding piece. Dinicu’s Hora staccato doesn’t disappoint either. Sarasate’s Romanza Adaluza captivates for its magical moments, and in Saint-Saëns Havanaise the double-stop passages are fluent. Ravel’s Tzigane is soused in gypsy swagger.

Sound quality is consistently good throughout, with the two artists well-balanced. Lynn Ludwig’s restorations are carried out with her usual dedicated skill and expertise. The accompanying liner gives a comprehensive biography of the violinist’s life with its accompanying vicissitudes. Outstanding in every respect, this release is strongly recommended.
Stephen Greenbank
CD 1 [79:45]
DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G minor, L 148
FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A major, FWV 8
KREISLER: Rondino on a Theme by Beethoven
KREISLER: Caprice Viennois, Op 2
Recorded ∙ 26 November 1951 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
FAURÉ: Violin Sonata No 1 in A major, Op 13
Recorded ∙ 06 November 1953 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
MILHAUD: Le Boeuf sur le toit
DINICU: Hora staccato (Arr. by Jascha Heifetz)
Recorded ∙ 23 November 1952 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
Christian Ferras ∙ violin
Pierre Barbizet ∙ piano

CD 2 [76:03]
KREISLER: Allegretto in the Style of Boccherini
CHAMINADE: Serenade Espagnole (Arr. by Fritz Kreisler)
Recorded ∙ 23 November 1952 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
KREISLER: Schön Rosmarin
KREISLER: Liebesfreud
SAINT-SAËNS: Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso, Op 28
MOZART: Violin Sonata in B-flat major, KV 454
Recorded ∙ 16 March 1955 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
MOZART: Violin Sonata in A major, KV 305/293d
SAINT-SAËNS: Havanaise in E major, Op 83
RAVEL: Tzigane
SARASATE: Romanza Andaluza, Op 22, No 1
WIENIAWSKI: Polonaise concertante in D major, Op 4
Recorded ∙ 26 October 1964 ∙ Hamburg ∙ Studio 10 ∙ NDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording
Christian Ferras ∙ violin
Pierre Barbizet ∙ piano

Review of previous volume on Meloclassic: