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Franco Gulli reDiscovered
Franco Gulli (violin)
rec. 1957-97
RHINE CLASSICS RH-005 [11 CDs: 774 mins]

Franco Gulli (1926-2001) is the latest violinist to be celebrated by Rhine Classics in an 11-CD box that does much to expand his discography in what are, in the main, live performances. It’s a feature of this series that Rhine remains unperturbed by releasing duplicate performances of a work; here for example there are two performances of the Debussy sonata but apart from a reprise of Nigun, that’s all.

Rhine is not alone in seeking out Gulli’s recordings. Forgotten Records and First Hand have both explored his legacy. But Rhine’s box covers the four decades between 1957 and 1999. Both Bach Concertos are here, with Ernest Bour directing in Baden-Baden in 1973; solid, deep basses, warmly hued and comfortingly old school, with the harpsichord more audible in the E major where Gulli’s phrasing in the slow movement is seraphic. Viotti’s Concerto No.22 was once a staple of the advanced student’s art and something, indeed, that Kreisler and his ilk would perform (in fact a recording exists of Kreisler playing it). It’s well suited to Gulli’s songful lyricism, his fluid bowing and technically assured musicianship.

There are three Paganini concertos. From 1961, with Nino Sanzogno directing an occasionally thin sounding orchestra, comes Paganini No.1. His legato is enormously persuasive and if he is not quiet technically watertight in some of the more demanding passages, he brings piquant colour to the slow movement. The broadcast of Paganini’s Second Concerto comes from nearly a quarter of a century later (Hannover, Aldo Ceccato directing). Gulli is on splendid form, taking La Campanella in his stride. No.5 is heard in the reconstruction made by Federico Mompellio with a cadenza composed by Remy Principe and Gulli. Mario Rossi is the fine conductor. This is prefaced by some 18 seconds of tuning and chat. Gulli’s gleaming lyricism is everywhere apparent here and he dispatches the cadenza with utter panache, the Rondo finale’s jaunty charms succulently characterised by the great fiddler. To end this second disc there is a French radio interview in which Gulli talks to Pierre Divoire about his tastes in repertoire, his upcoming Parisian recital, his musical collaboration with his pianist wife and about Paganini. We also hear the Presto from Bach’s G minor solo sonata and a truncated Paganini Caprice No.17.

He is teamed once again with Ceccato in a Cleveland reading of Mozart’s A major Concerto from January 1980. Whilst I don’t find this ideally balanced, Gulli’s focused singing tone and sensitively shaped Adagio do much to compensate. In-concert tuning adds to the vibrancy of the occasion. This disc is rounded off by the work that the composer Howard Ferguson berated in a letter to Gerald Finzi, Haydn’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon. It does at least sport excellent colleagues, and is a congenial, well-scaled reading directed by Denis Vaughan. The big news about CD4 is that it contains Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in a 1965 Turin reading directed by Rossi. This was the work Gulli played at his official debut, in Trieste in October 1944. It’s a lyric and slightly small-scaled performance, at its very best in a beautifully refined slow movement. It’s a pity that the winds are on hit-and-miss form and that the lower strings congeal from time to time in the balance. The finale is easy going and eventful. The coupling is the Triple Concerto with Enrica Cavallo (Gulli’s wife) and cellist Giacinto Caramia, with whom he performed the Haydn.

From 1957, and the earliest recording in the set – taken from the original master tape – is Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole in the four-movement version directed by the visiting Ferdinand Leitner. The acoustic in RAI’s studio is rather cavernous, and Gulli favours lyricism over the colouristic individualism of the French school as exemplified by Thibaud or Merckel in this work, but his turns of phrase in the finale are fluid and he brings real beauty to the Andante. Gulli certainly didn’t shy away from the more acerbic elements of the repertoire. He essays Bartók’s B minor Concerto in a 1959 reading with frequent accompanist Rossi in Turin. Despite the meatier métier he characteristically finds a patrician elegance in the slow movement, allowing the Allegro scherzando section a natural rhythmic impetus before its return to the tempo primo. Maybe it was because of his friendship with Szigeti that he performed Prokofiev’s D major Concerto in a performance overseen by none other than Celibidache (Naples, 1957). He holds the intense lyricism and the biting asperity of the work in excellent balance, neither especially predominating.

Contemporary Italian music is not especially noticeable but fortunately there is Ghedini. His Divertimento in D major was dedicated to Wanda Luzzato, whose performance of it can be savoured in Rhine’s box devoted to her art. Teamed in 1962 with Lovro von Matačić, Gulli takes the opening and the fourth movements much faster than had Luzzato in her 1960 world premiere. Contrappunti for string trio and orchestra – with Bruno Giuranna and Giacinto Caramìa – is another newish piece, composed in 1960-61, and performed in 1968, three years after Ghedini’s death. The playing here is memorable; the warm and forlorn elements of the music registering with tremendous candour, the ensemble splendidly motored in the lithe finale.

Gulli performed Othmar Schoeck’s Concerto in August 1973 and this plays to his strengths as a portraitist cum lyricist. His phrasing is especially lovely, buoyed on the air of Schoeck’s unselfconscious beauties. Its disc-mate is Busoni’s Concerto in D major, another Szigeti specialty. This was taped in 1997, with Georg Mark conducting in Udine. It invariably makes its mark by virtue of its grandness and boldness and Gulli is still in fine form. There’s more Busoni in disc eight. He made theses studio, commercial recordings of the two sonatas in New York for Musical Heritage Society LP. With Cavallo, ensemble is watertight, and the performances powerfully assured albeit rather let down by a dry studio acoustic. A little earlier Hyman Bress recorded the works and Bress, a more inconsistent stylist than Gulli, nevertheless brought a different sense of passion to the sonatas. The final piece on this disc is Ned Rorem’s Day Music, eight studies for violin and piano from 1971, some of them disagreeable, though the wittier studies are more engaging.

The last three discs are also, in the main, given over to sonatas of one kind or another. The two Debussy sonata performances, both with his wife, come from 1987 and 1999 and differ hardly at all interpretatively and share swimmy acoustics. I’m afraid I found the earlier especially lacking in intimacy and fancy. Chausson’s Concert features the Academica String Quartet, led by the excellent Mariana Sirbu, and is passionately expressive but needs a treble cut. Bloch’s Baal Shem comes from a Milan-recorded LP and shows that, like Grumiaux, Gulli could don the Hebraic mantle when required. His ‘Golden Jubilee’ concert takes most of the penultimate volume, celebrating as it does the 50th year of his debut. This November 1994 concert was taped by Emilio Pessina with Gulli’s permission. There are a few coughs and some roughness from time to the time in Gulli’s playing, but the Chausson Poème is extremely effective and as a recording better than the same composer’s Concert a dozen years earlier. The aural perspective sounds to have been a good seat in the stalls. Ravel Tzigane is followed by Gulli-announced encores; Nigun and, in his own edition, Vieuxtemps’ Romance in C minor, an ardent and beautiful reading. The Bloch Suite No.1 that ends this disc, a substantial addition and an excellent, perceptive reading, is ex-LP (recorded in Milan, released in 1969).

The final disc opens with a delightful and unaffected reading of Mozart’s Sonata K301, continues with Respighi Sonata that rather lacks the ultimate in romantic weight and flair, adds the Debussy and also the Ravel where the slides in the Blues bring a smile to one’s face. He and Cavallo reverse the ordering of the Scherzo and Andantino (only) of their encore, Schubert’s Grand Duo, to end on a suitably vivacious high.

Some of the highpoints whether for reportorial or performance reasons include the Beethoven Violin Concerto, Paganini No.5 and Viotti and all come from the master tapes and have never before appeared commercially.

I enjoyed Paolo Pessina’s booklet note very much, though part company with him when he talks about Zino Francescatti being an Italian bel canto fiddler; I’ll agree that Campoli’s inheritance exemplified that quality but surely not Francescatti. Still, the track details are full and clear, and there are some lovely, intimate and evocative photographs of Gulli, one in colour, sourced from the family archives that serve only to enhance this splendid and loving box.

Jonathan Woolf

Johann Sebastian Bach
[1]-[3] Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, BWV 1041 (c.1730)
SO des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden | Ernest Bour
recorded: studio | Fernsehstudio, Baden-Baden | 10 May 1973
Giovanni Battista Viotti
[4]-[6] Violin Concerto No.22 in A minor, G 97 (1793/97)
O A.Scarlatti di Napoli della RAI | Tibor Paul
recorded: live | Auditorium RAI, Napoli | 19 February 1964
Niccolò Paganini
[7]-[9] Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 / M.S. 21 (1816)
O A.Scarlatti di Napoli della RAI | Nino Sanzogno
recorded: live | Cortile Reggia di Capodimonte, Napoli | 13 July 1961

Niccolò Paganini
[1]-[3] Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor, Op.7“La Campanella”(1826)
RPO Hannover des NDR | Aldo Ceccato
recorded: studio | Großer Sendesaal, Hannover | 23 September 1983
Niccolò Paganini
[4] ambience take from recording session
[5]-[7] Violin Concerto No.5 in A minor, M.S. 78 (1830)
OS di Roma della RAI | Mario Rossi
recorded: studio | Auditorium Foro Italico, Roma | 20 July 1960
“Rendez-vous à cinq heures” by Pierre Divoire:
[8] J.S. Bach| Sonata No.1 in G minor, BWV 1001: 4. Presto
[9] Interviewin French
[10] N. Paganini| Caprice No.17 in E-flat major, Op.1-fragment-
recorded: studio | RTF, Paris | 7 February 1957

Johann Sebastian Bach
[1]-[3] Violin Concerto No.2 in E major, BWV 1042 (c.1718)
SO des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden | Ernest Bour
recorded: studio | Fernsehstudio, Baden-Baden | 10 May 1973
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
[4]-[6] Violin Concerto No.5 in A major, KV.219“Turkish”(1775)
Cleveland SO | Aldo Ceccato
recorded: live | Severance Hall, Cleveland | 31 January 1980
Franz Joseph Haydn
[7]-[9] Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major, Hob.I:105 (1792)
Franco Gulli, violin | Giacinto Caramia, cello
Elio Ovcinnicoff, oboe | Ubaldo Benedettelli, bassoon
Orchestra of Naples (O A.Scarlatti della RAI) | Denis Vaughan
recorded: studio | Sala d’Ercole, Palazzo Reale, Napoli | 1965

Ludwig van Beethoven
[1]-[3] Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 (1806)
(Cadenzas 1 & 3: Fritz Kreisler)
OS di Torino della RAI | Mario Rossi
recorded: live | Auditorium RAI, Torino | 10 September 1965
Ludwig van Beethoven
[4]-[6] Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello in C major, Op.56 (1803)
Enrica Cavallo, piano | Franco Gulli, violin | Giacinto Caramia, cello
O A.Scarlatti di Napoli della RAI | Massimo Pradella
recorded: live | Cortile Reggia di Capodimonte, Napoli | 30 July 1967

Édouard Lalo
[1]-[4] Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op.21 (1874)
(short version - without 3. Intermezzo)
OS di Torino della RAI | Ferdinand Leitner
recorded: live | Auditorium RAI, Torino | 15 April 1957
Béla Bartók
[5-[7] Violin Concerto No.2 in B minor, Sz.112, BB 117 (1937/38)
OS di Torino della RAI | Mario Rossi
recorded: live | Auditorium RAI, Torino | 31 December 1959

Sergei Prokofiev
[1]-[3] Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.19 (1916/17)
O A.Scarlatti di Napoli della RAI | Sergiu Celibidache
recorded: live | Conservatorio S.Pietro a Majella, Napoli | 22 December 1957
Giorgio Federico Ghedini
[4]-[7] Divertimento in D major, for violin and orchestra (1959/60)
OS di Milano della RAI | Lovro von Matacic
recorded: live | Sala Grande, Conservatorio, Milano | 23 February 1962
Giorgio Federico Ghedini
[8]-[10] Contrappunti, for string trio and orchestra (1960/61)
Trio Italiano d’Archi:
Franco Gulli, violin | Bruno Giuranna, viola | Giacinto Caramia, cello
OS di Milano della RAI | Sergiu Celibidache
recorded: live | Sala Grande, Conservatorio, Milano | 5 April 1968

Othmar Schoeck
[1]-[3] Violin Concerto in B-flat major, Op.21“Quasi una fantasia”(1911/12)
Schweizerisches Festspielorchester | Niklaus Aeschbacher
recorded: live | “35. Musikfestwochen” - Kunsthaus, Luzern | August 1973
Ferruccio Busoni
[4]-[6] Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35a, BV 243 (1896/97)
Odel Teatro Comunale G.Verdi di Trieste | Georg Mark
recorded: live | Palasport Carnera, Udine | 31 May 1997

Ferruccio Busoni
[1]-[3] Violin Sonata No.1 in E minor, Op.29, BV 234 (1890)
[4]-[6] Violin Sonata No.2 in E minor, Op.36a, BV 244 (1898/1900)
Enrica Cavallo, piano
recorded: studio | New York | 1975
Ned Rorem (1923- )
[7]-[14] Day Music, 8 Studies for violin and piano (1971)
Enrica Cavallo, piano
recorded: live | Alice Tully Hall, New York | 11 August 1980

Claude Debussy
[1]-[3] Violin Sonata in G minor, CD 148 / L.140 (1917)
[4] tuning and ambience
Ernest Chausson
[5]-[8] Concert for violin, piano, string quartet, in D major, Op.21 (1889/91)
Enrica Cavallo, piano
Academica String Quartet:
Mariana Sirbu& Ruxandra Colan, violins; James Creitz, viola; Mihai Dancila, cello
recorded: live | Teatro Comunale, Monfalcone | 5 May 1987
Ernest Bloch
[9]-[11] Baal Shem, Suite for violin and piano (1923)
Enrica Cavallo, piano
recorded: studio | Milano | 1979

Golden Jubilee Recital | “Recital per i 50 anni di carriera” (1944-1994)
Johann Sebastian Bach
[1] Violin solo Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004: 5. Chaconne
Ernest Chausson
[2] Poème for violin and piano, Op.25 (1896)
Maurice Ravel
[3] Tzigane, "Rhapsodie de concert", M.76 (1924)
encores/bis, announced by Franco Gulli:
Ernest Bloch
[4] Baal Shem, Suite for violin and piano (1923): 2. Nigun
Henri Vieuxtemps
[5] Romance in C minor, Op.7 No.2 “Désespoir” (1841)
Giuliana Gulli, piano
recording: live | Sala Tripcovich, Trieste | 24 November 1994
Ernest Bloch
[6] Suite No.1 for solo violin (1958)
recording: studio | Milano | 1963

56° “Settimane Musicali Senesi” Recital
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
[1]-[2] Violin Sonata No.18 in G major K.301/293a (1778)
Ottorino Respighi
[3]-[5] Violin Sonata in B minor, P.110 (1916/17)
Claude Debussy
[6]-[8] Violin Sonata (No.3) in G minor, CD 148 / L.140 (1917)
Maurice Ravel
[9]-[11] Violin Sonata No.2 in G major, M.77 (1923/27)
encores/bis, announced by Franco Gulli:
Franz Schubert
[12]-[13] Grand Duo in A major, Op.posth.162, D.574: 3. & 2. mvmts
Enrica Cavallo, piano
recorded: live | St Antimo Abbey, Montalcino, Siena | 17 July 1999

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