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Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
Discovered Tapes: Sonatas
rec. 1952-1984
RHINE CLASSICS RH-013 [4 CDs: 285:07]

This is the second of three sets I am in the process of reviewing dedicated to the great violinist Ruggiero Ricci, who died at the age of 94 at his home in Palm Springs, California in August 2012. Rhine Classics timed the releases for 2018, hence their billing as The Centenary Edition. I have already reviewed the 4-CD collection of showpieces. Here the focus is on sonatas, taped in recitals given between 1952 and 1984. Ranked as one of the greatest violinists of his time, he could boast a career spanning seventy years. He began as a child prodigy, making his debut in San Francisco in 1928 at the age of just ten. Prolific by any standards, he went on to perform over 6,000 concerts and make over 500 recordings. In 1947 he made history, being the first to record Paganini’s complete 24 Caprices in their original solo form.

The two Bach Solo Sonatas (nos. 1 and 2) reveal true artistry. The violinist's stylistically Romantic interpretations are penetrating and reveal an intelligent grasp of their structure and architecture. The performances are enhanced by Ricci's rich warm tone. Beethoven is represented by Sonatas 1 and 10, and the pianists are Carlo Bussotti and Ferenc Rados respectively. Each is a partnership of equals, and listening to these glowing accounts makes one regret that the artist never set down a complete cycle. Also with Bussotti, there’s a compelling performance of Bloch's turbulent First Sonata, alternating ritualistic rhythmic intensity with passages of serene surrender.

Brahms' epic Third Sonata is gripping, with fiery outer movements of imposing declamatory gestures. I'm particularly enamoured by the glowing embers of nostalgia that infuse the slow movement. Ricci performed this sonata at a Harrogate Festival concert I attended in the 1980s, and I recall being similarly impressed by the qualities I find here.  Portentous and menacing aptly describes the first movement of Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 1, and the chiffon runs near the end evoke a spectral scene. The brusque second movement is truly mocking. Sedate calm follows in the Andante, with the Sonata culminating in a determined tour-de-force. Ricci gets sympathetic support from Helmuth Barth at the piano, in both.

It's a treat to have the Saint-Saëns’ First Sonata, a wonderful work, not programmed enough in my view. Ricci's performance conveys unease and drama in the opener, with the third scherzo-like movement lithe and nimble. The work ends with a furiously driven moto perpetuo, something of a showpiece for violinists. Whilst I'm very much taken by Ricci's daredevil, go for broke playing, his spiccatos don't quite match up to the crisp, incisiveness of Jascha Heifetz.

In addition to sonatas, there are a good many encore-type pieces scattered throughout. This was a genre Ricci excelled in, and there's an impressive display on offer. Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantelle I would single out for its dazzling virtuosity. After a gorgeously shaped Introduction, Ricci's spiccatos in the Tarantelle are taken at a fair lick, and sparkle with effervescence. Another showstopper is Paganini's Le Streghe, in the Kreisler arrangement, a piece that draws fully on the performer’s technical arsenal. The double stop harmonics, especially, emerge with luminous radiance. No Ricci recital would be complete without a selection of Paganini Caprices. These became his calling card. Each focuses on a different aspect of technique and Ricci is a natural, unflappable in his delivery. Bartók’s six Romanian Folk Dances (arr. Zoltán Székely) are exotically seductive and played with true gypsy swagger. Turning to Ravel’s more substantial Tzigane, from a 1984 recital in Budapest, I have to admit that it doesn't work for me. The performance lacks pace, fire and excitement for most of the time. In fact, it only really takes off towards the end. Ernst's “The last rose of summer” for solo violin is littered with flamboyant prestidigitation, and constitutes a pleasing encore for the Budapest audience, which they acknowledge with spirited applause.

This fascinating set offers a veritable feast, covering a wide variety of repertoire. I immediately warmed to the sound quality and balance of all the recordings. All told this is a worthy centenary tribute.

Stephen Greenbank
 
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf 

Contents
CD1 | 72:18
Béla Bartók
[1]-[3]  Sonatina, Sz.55 (1915) “Folk Tunes of Transylvania” (arr. André Gertler)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
[4] Souvenir d’un lieu cher, (3) Pieces Op.42 (1878): 2. Scherzo in C minor
Niccolň Paganini
[5] Le streghe (Witches Dance), Op.8 / M.S. 19 (1813) (arr. Fritz Kreisler)
Henryk Wieniawski
[6] Polonaise No.1 ‘Brillante’ in D major, Op.4 (1852)
Francesco Maria Veracini
[7] Largo (arr. Mario Corti)
Niccolň Paganini
[8] Caprice No.17 in E-flat major, Op.1 (Sostenuto – Andante)
Pablo de Sarasate
[9] Introduction et Tarantelle, Op.43 (1899)
Niccolň Paganini
[10] Caprice No.14 in E-flat major, for solo violin, Op.1 (Moderato)
Carlo Bussotti, piano
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 15 January 1952 | original master
Béla Bartók
[11]-[16] Romanian Folk Dances (6), Sz.56 (1915) (arr. Zoltan Székely)
Niccolň Paganini
[17]-[21] Caprices (24) for solo violin, Op.1 / M.S. 25 : Nos. 5, 9, 17, 20, 24
Eugčne Ysa˙e
[22]Violin solo Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.27/3 “Ballade” (1923) -to G.Enescu-
Carlo Loebnitz, piano
recorded: studio | Swiss Radio, Bern | 1 April 1960 | original master
Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst
[23] «Polyphonic Studies» (6), for solo violin (1864): 6. “The last rose of summer”
recorded: live | Grand Hall, Music Academy, Budapest | 24 May 1984 | original master, stereo
(first encore from the Budapest recital on CD4)

CD2 | 63:16
Johann Sebastian Bach
[1]-[4] Violin solo Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001
Ludwig van Beethoven
[5]-[7] Violin Sonata No.1 in D major, Op.12/1
Ernest Bloch
[8]-[10] Violin Sonata No.1 (1920)
Carlo Bussotti, piano
recorded: live | Carnegie Hall, New York | 22 January 1958 | original master

CD3 | 72:47
Johann Sebastian Bach
[1]-[4] Violin Sonata No.3 in E major, BWV 1016
Johannes Brahms
[5]-[8] Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.108 (1886/88)
Sergei Prokofiev
[9]-[12] Violin Sonata No.1 in F minor, Op.80 (1938/46)
Niccolň Paganini
[13]-[15] Caprices (24) for solo violin, Op.1 / M.S. 25 : Nos. 16, 17, 24 *
Helmuth Barth, piano
recorded: studio | Funkhaus am Halberg, Saarbrücken | 5 & 6* March 1964 | broadcast, stereo

CD4 | 76:46
Johann Sebastian Bach
[1]-[4] Violin solo Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003
Ludwig van Beethoven
[5]-[8] Violin Sonata No.10 in G major, Op.96 (1812)
Camille Saint-Saëns
[9]-[12] Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor, Op.75 (1885)
Maurice Ravel
[13] Tzigane “Rhapsodie de concert”, M.76 (1924)
Maria Theresia von Paradis
[14] Sicilienne, for violin and piano (arr. Samuel Dushkin)
Ferenc Rados, piano
recorded: live | Grand Hall, Music Academy






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