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Jean Ter-Merguerian (violin)
The Soul of the Violin
rec. 1961-1999
RHINE CLASSICS RH-016 [5 CDs: 368:33]

Jean Ter-Merguerian (1935-2015) was a French-born violinist who studied in Marseilles and whose family moved to Armenia in 1947 where the twelve-year-old continued his studies. In 1956 he won the International Competition of the Prague Spring and two years later a Grand Prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow where he was heard by David Oistrakh. Impressed, Oistrakh took Ter-Merguerian into his class from 1958-63. During this time Oistrakh’s training paid high dividends when his pupil won the 1961 Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud competition. Thereafter an international career took him to America in 1975 but in 1981 he left the Soviet Union and returned to France where he was appointed professor at his old conservatory in Marseilles.

His name is largely unfamiliar because of the paucity of recordings. He seems not to have been tempted by the recording process and only one example is presented in this 5-CD box, that of the Sonata by Gérard Gasparian which was recorded for a Timpani CD in Paris in 1999.

Rhine Classics’ survey starts with his visit to Boston in June 1975 where he joined Arthur Fiedler, by all accounts deeply impressed by the performance, in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Ter-Merguerian was now 40 and pretty much in his prime. He and Fiedler take conventional tempi for the first two movements where audience coughs make their usual presence felt. Fiedler conducts with vigour and Ter-Merguerian plays with sonorous attention to detail, clean, finely bowed and eschewing extraneous gestures. He takes a tempo in the finale reminiscent of Heifetz’s and drives with intensity throughout the movement. Note the first movement timing which reflects the music; it actually lasts 22:34 not 21:48 to take account of excited audience applause. The Beethoven Triple Concerto was recorded live in the Conservatoire in Marseilles. He’s joined by cellist Yvan Chiffoleau and Christian Ferras’ erstwhile accompanist, Pierre Barbizet. Ensemble here is fine and there’s a light elegance to the responses between the players and a sense of quiet piety in the slow movement.

The second disc traces a recital given with pianist Monique Oberdoerffer in the smallish-sounding Théâtre municipal in Carcassone in 1982. Their Brahms’ G major sonata is well-paced and expressive and once again the violinist shows a tendency to take Brahms’ finales quite fast. His musical armoury is largely devoid of overt finger position changes and slides. He plays Bach’s Chaconne with a delicacy that avoids contrasts, preferring a linear clarity and directness. This single-minded approach operates on a narrower expressive bandwidth than more showy performances but is also more interior and less projected. They play Mozart’s Sonata K378 with resilient rhythms, and Saint-Saëns’ Havanaise with a fair degree of suavity. The recital concludes on the third disc with a Sarasate brace and a perceptively contoured reading of Ysaÿe’s third solo sonata, ‘Ballade’, the one dedicated to Enescu. Ter-Merguerian is then joined by Barbizet for a recital of three Beethoven sonatas in Marseilles in 1985. Here the violin is rather too far back in the balance so Barbizet is inclined to cover him from time to time. One unlooked for consequence is to hear how deftly Barbizet characterises the piano’s role in the variations of the central movement of Op.12/1 and how wittily giocoso is the Scherzo of Op.30/2. The recital continues on the fourth disc where the violinist’s opening rhetorical statements in the Kreutzer rather reflect his playing of the Chaconne in its avoidance of brusqueness and resinous drama. Once into the Presto, though, things heat up. For an encore they offer – Barbizet announces it from the piano stool - the slow movement of the Spring sonata.

Ter-Mergeurian and Gasparian seem to have performed as a duo for a while in the late 1990s and there’s evidence in the form of a Mozart sonata (K296) from Geneva, though this is noted as having been recorded from a video tape. It has the effect, I must say, of having been recorded in the audience on cassette from the sound of nudges and splutters and loud coughs. The sound is, in any case distant and unappealing. Gasparian’s Sonata is another matter and has been licensed for use here by the composer. This is a fine work, dedicated to the violinist, that sports some crunchy dissonances, attractive lyricism, restless yet eloquent athleticism and driving momentum in the finale.

The final disc presents the violinist’s competition-winning performance in the form of the finale of Beethoven’s concerto, with the Joachim cadenza, and a brief and rather indistinct interview between the jury President, Henryk Szeryng and the young Ter-Merguerian. The major work in this last disc is a 1964 archive performance of Khachaturian’s Concerto with the Armenian Philharmonic directed by Michael Maluntsian in Yerevan, where Ter-Merguerian lived for a number of years. I assume Oistrakh guided him in this work as he doesn’t cleave to Kogan’s very fast first movement tempo but is otherwise an astute, clear-sighted interpreter. Some of the wind solos rise up with alarming bullishness from the orchestral tapestry. I doubt they would have been spot-miked so I assume this is an acoustic phenomenon. The disc ends with a sequence of smaller pieces; two by Khachaturian himself, including a stylish Ayshe’s Dance from Gayane. He also plays Prokofiev’s Masks from Romeo and Juliet in Heifetz’s arrangement. There are two more examples of his Sarasate – proficient but not personalised – and three lovely pieces by Komitas. Two of these are studio broadcasts and the final piece is a solo rendition of Krunk (The Crane), one of Komitas’ most famous compositions which is performed live in concert and elicits great applause.

There’s a fine 20-page booklet with a biographical portrait of the violinist and plenty of photographs, some in colour. Ter-Merguerian was a rock-solid performer with a big technique and he had a subtle, fluid bowing arm. He didn’t possess, at least from these archive performances, an overpowering stamp of personality and individuality. Apart from the Timpani CD and a privately circulated CD-R, there seem to be no other available examples of his art, which makes this 5-CD set attractive to specialists in the field.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

CD1 | 74:14
Johannes Brahms
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (Cadenza: F.Kreisler)
Boston Symphony Orchestra | Arthur Fiedler
recorded: live | Symphony Hall, Boston | 13 June 1975
intro: tuning
Ludwig van Beethoven
Triple Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op.56
Pierre Barbizet, piano | Jean Ter-Merguerian, violin | Yvan Chiffoleau, cello
Orchestre de Cannes-Provence-Côte d’Azur | Philippe Bender
recorded: live | Cour du Conservatoire, Marseille | 30 July 1983

CD2 | 73:05
1982 | Carcasonne | recital with M.Oberdoerffer
applause / tuning
Johannes Brahms
Violin Sonata No.1 in G major, Op.78
Johann Sebastian Bach
Chaconne (from Violin solo Partita No.2 in D minor, BWV 1004)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata (No.26) in B-flat major, K.378/317d
Camille Saint-Saëns
Havanaise in E major, Op.83
Monique Oberdoerffer, piano
recorded: live | Théâtre municipal, Carcasonne | 20 February 1982
CD3 | 67:27
applause / tuning
Pablo de Sarasate
- Playera, Op.23/1 (Spanish Dance No.5 - Book III)
- Caprice basque, Op.24
Monique Oberdoerffer, piano
recorded: live | Théâtre municipal, Carcasonne | 20 February 1982
announced by Jean Ter-Merguerian
Eugène Ysaÿe
Violin solo Sonata No.3 in D minor, Op.27/3 “Ballade” (1923)
recorded: live | Marseille | c.1998

1985 | Marseille | recital with P.Barbizet
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.1 in D major, Op.12/1
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor, Op.30/2
Pierre Barbizet, piano
recorded: live | Eglise du Sacré Coeur, Marseille | 28 June 1985

CD4 | 74:35
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Sonata No.9 in A major, Op.47 “à Kreutzer”
announce by Pierre Barbizet
Violin Sonata No.5 in F major, Op.24 “Spring” : II. Adagio molto espressivo
Pierre Barbizet, piano
recorded: live | Eglise du Sacré Coeur, Marseille | 28 June 1985
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Violin Sonata (No.17) in C major, K.296
Gérard Gasparian, piano
recorded: audience-live | Victoria Hall, Geneva | 19 November 1998
Gérard Gasparian (1960-)
Sonate pour violon et piano (1990) [to Jean Ter-Merguerian]
Gérard Gasparian, piano
recorded: studio | Paris | 1999

CD5 | 79:12
1961 | Paris | 1st Grand Prize “Long – Thibaud Competition”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 : III. Rondò. Allegro (Cadenza: Joseph Joachim)
Henryk Szeryng, jury President, introduces and speaks with Jean Ter-Merguerian
(French interview by RTF after the Beethoven Concerto performance)
Orchestre national de la RTF | Louis Fourestier
recorded: live telecast | Paris | 27 June 1961
1964/71 | Armenian recordings
Aram Khachaturian
Violin Concerto in D minor (1940)
Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra | Michael Maluntsian
recorded: live | Big Hall of Armenian Philharmony, Yerevan | 1964
Aram Khachaturian
- Dance in B-flat major, Op.1 (1925)
- Ayshe’s Dance (“Gayane”, Ballet-Suite No.2) / arr. Mikhael Fikhtengolts
Sergei Prokofiev
Masks (“Romeo and Juliet”, Suite Op.75) / arr. Jascha Heifetz
Pablo de Sarasate
- Habanera, Op.21/2 (Spanish Dance No.2)
- Romanza Andaluza, Op.22/1 (Spanish Dance No.3)
3 Armenian Songs:
- “Akh Maral djan” (Ah, dear Maral) / arr. Aram Shamshyan
- “Qeler-tsoler” (Striding, beaming) / arr. Aram Shamshyan
- “Krunk” (The crane), for Violin solo *
Nelli Daniel-Beck, piano
recorded: studio & live* | Yerevan | c.1968/71

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