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Leningrad Recital II
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004 [15:13]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12/1 [16:58]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major [24:48]
Belá BARTÓK (1881-1945)
6 Rumanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56 [5:09]
Niccolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Nel cor piů non mi sento, for solo violin [7:15]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Sonata for Violin and Piano ‘Il trillo del Diavolo’ [12:31]
Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
Martha Argerich (piano)
rec. live, 22 April 1961, Great Philharmonic Hall, Leningrad
DOREMI DHR-8053 [81:55]

This is the second of a pair of concerts given in the Great Philharmonic Hall, Leningrad on 21st and 22nd April 1961. The performers are two 'stars' of their respective instruments, Ruggiero Ricci and Martha Argerich. The first evening's recital, featuring works by Beethoven, Prokofiev, Bartók and Sarasate, was released by Doremi in 2015, again in their Legendary Treasures series  (DHR 8040).

The concert here was recorded live and, though it doesn't specify, I would assume it derives from a broadcast of Leningrad radio. The audience do seem generously bronchial on this particular night, which some may find irksome at times. The programme begins with a short spoken introduction by a Russian announcer, then Ricci launches into the Bach Chaconne. It's the least successful of the items presented here. Ricci, to my mind, makes heavy weather of it. The music doesn't flow easily and it fails to convince me that's it's a well-integrated performance. In the arpeggio variation the same bowing is used throughout and a sense of tedium creeps in. Compare it with Heifetz, who varies the bowing and articulation. In a couple of the variations midway, Ricci employs some strange articulation, especially in  double stop passages, where he employs an abrasive staccato bowing more suited to Paganini. No, I'm afraid this performance of Bach's sublime masterpiece doesn't float my boat.

The violinist is next partnered by the Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich in a performance of Beethoven's Sonata for Violin and Piano in D major, Op.12, No.1. After the Bach, this reading is much more to my taste. There's a close affinity between the two artists and their performance reveals a meeting of minds. By the time this concert was staged, the two had been touring Russia, so one would imagine they had sufficient time to rehearse and get to know each other. The second movement Theme and Variations is particularly fine. The Theme is elegantly etched and each variation is exquisitely characterized.

One criticism I have of Ricci's playing regards his tone production, which can seem relentlessly over-bright at times. An example, where this problem is particularly noticeable and has a detrimental effect, is in the finale of the Franck Sonata. He employs a fast vibrato, which is incessant and unremitting, resulting in his sound coming over as tense and strident. The Bartók Rumanian Dances are far more tonally convincing and are here played with true gypsy swagger.

Ricci certainly comes into his own in a stunning performance of Paganini's Nel cor piů non mi sento Variations for solo violin. Although his repertoire was wide-ranging, the violinist became known as a Paganini specialist. Indeed, I first came across his playing, whilst at school, on a Decca LP of the composer's music, in which he was accompanied on the piano by his teacher Louis Persinger. The Variations are the perfect vehicle to showcase his impressive technical arsenal. Double stops, harmonics, left-hand pizzicatos, spiccato and ricochet bowing (the latter he could do better than anyone), are all there. The audience were obviously impressed, as there are a couple of communal gasps after some rapid, downward left-hand pizzicato scales. The recital ends with a delightful performance of Tartini's 'Devil's Trill'. The opening movement is refined and noble, with the trills in the second movement suitably crisp and incisive. 

So, the recital is something of a mixed bag.  For a 1961 radio broadcast, the sound quality is excellent. The CD is generously timed at 82 minutes.

Stephen Greenbank



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