Ferras Germany MC2048

Christian Ferras (violin)
Violin Recitals in Germany 1953-1965
Pierre Barbizet (piano)
MELOCLASSIC MC2048 [78:17 + 74:55]

Christian Ferras has done well by Meloclassic which has already devoted several releases to him, and here’s another twofer, this time of his 1953-65 German concerts with Pierre Barbizet. The first disc contains the bulk, possibly even the entirety, of a September 1959 live recording given at Ettlingen during the course of which he performs three sonatas.

The first is Beethoven’s Spring – the fact that throughout the two discs he is heard in three Beethoven sonatas (the others are Nos 4 and 10) must alert one to the studio cycle he and Barbizet recorded the previous year, which is one of a number of wonderful things preserved in his Warner discography (see the 13CD Ferras Icon box). One shouldn’t look for divergent readings though it’s noticeable that dynamic variance is one means by which he heightens expressive intensity, not merely increased vibrato usage. His opening is of a piece with his studio traversal – rather relaxed in tempo but scrupulous in detail and animated by vibrance. That’s especially true of the unusually intense slow movement.

He also recorded the Schumann Second Sonata commercially in 1952 but this live recording catches something of his inwardness and passion in a work that is conceived of intimacy and razory intensity, both states co-existing sometimes in perilous juxtaposition. The slow movement, in particular – though hardly only the slow movement – is played with remarkable plasticity and purpose. Unlike the Beethoven cycle, which had already been recorded, the Enescu Sonata 3 and Ravel’s Tzigane lay a few years in the future, which makes the existence of these very well transferred tapes so attractive. Here one does a feel a difference between this live reading and that 1962 stereo recording. In the German broadcast Ferras and Barbizet are consistently faster than their later selves, bringing a sense of bravura intensity to bear, whereas in the studio traversal, however beautiful the playing, the temperature does dip from time to time, as if they were so intent on making clear the music’s manifold strands that they lost sight of its necessity for speed. This isn’t the first Tzigane from this source and as before Ferras plays it with notable panache.

Ferras and Barbizet didn’t record Schubert’s Third Sonatina so the version of it contained in CD2, recorded in Cologne in May 1954, is valuable. Though it’s hardly a major work and its demands are comparatively slight, Ferras is both lively and gutsy, bringing it multi-dimensionally to life, whilst always paying due diligence when it comes to the fiddle’s counter and subsidiary themes, where he is attentive to Barbizet leading. Bartók’s Second Sonata (1959, Hamburg) is doubly valuable as he left behind no studio recordings of the composer’s music. This was a time when he was actively seeking to expand his repertoire and Bartók had been dead for fewer than 15 years and proved a suitable candidate for Ferras as he drives through the thickets of the first movement.

The last two sonatas are devoted to Beethoven. The Fourth Sonata (1960, Frankfurt) and the Tenth (1965, Cologne) are again studio recordings and pretty much central to both men’s repertoire. They phrase with such natural freedom and understanding, making hay with the wit of No.4’s scherzoso moments. In No.10 – ripely contoured though it is – it’s noticeable that they relax the tempo of the slow movement slightly more than they had in Salle Wagram, Paris, though the difference doesn’t alter the fact that this is another notable, refined reading.

Ferras’ legacy remains in safe hands over two and a half hours, during which we are introduced to works new to his discography as well as those that he had played many times before but in different circumstances. The booklet documentation is first class and pays due thanks to Yann Barbizet for his assistance.

Jonathan Woolf

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No 5 in F Major, Op 24 (1801) [20:47]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Violin Sonata No 2 in D Minor, Op 121 (1851) [27:29]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Violin Sonata No 3 in A Minor, Op 25 “Dans le caractčre populaire roumain” (1926) [20:14]
rec. 25 September 1959, Ettlingen, Schloss, SDR Live Recording
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane ‘Rapsodie de concert’ (1924) [9:46]
rec. 12 November 1953, Stuttgart, Krone, SDR Radio Studio Recording
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Sonatina No 3 in G Minor, D 408, Op 137 (1816) [12:11]
rec. 5 May 1954, Köln Saal 2, WDR Radio Studio Recording
Bela BARTÓK (1882-1950)
Violin Sonata No 2, Sz 76 (1921-22) [21:29]
rec. 2 October 1959, Hamburg, Studio 10, NDR Radio Studio Recording
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Violin Sonata No 4 in A Minor, Op 23 (1801) [16:47]
rec. 30 April 1960, Frankfurt, Studio 3 HR, Radio Studio Recording
Violin Sonata No 10 in G Major, Op 96 (1812) [24:26]
rec. 19 March 1965, Köln, Saal 2, WDR ∙ Radio Studio Recording