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Christian Ferras (violin)
Concert Tours in Germany 1954–1961
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 61 [43:59]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 35 [33:27]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op 77 [39:58]
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No 1 in D major, Op 19 [21:39]
Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Hans Müller-Kray
NDR-Sinfonieorchester/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt (Brahms)
HR-Sinfonieorchester/Dean Dixon (Prokofiev)
Rec. 22 March 1954, Stuttgart (Beethoven); 25 March 1957, Stuttgart (Tchaikovsky); 9 February 1959, Hamburg (Brahms); 10 March, 1961, Frankfurt (Prokofiev)
MELOCLASSIC MC2042 [77:26 + 61:37]

Over the years, Christian Ferras has been one of those violinists who’s been fairly well represented on both LP and CD. A leading exponent of the Franco-Belgian violin school, his intense yet varied vibrato, rich tone, refined interpretations and intelligent musicianship attracted such conductors as Herbert von Karajan, who recognized his unique artistry and invited him to record some of the mainstays of the violin concerto repertoire back in the 1960s. Over time he amassed a sizeable discography from the Baroque, through the Romantic era to the music of his own time. The Berg Concerto he ardently championed. Meloclassic have unearthed some live recordings along the way, and this is the third volume emanating from their stable that I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing (review ~ review).

He was born in Le Touquet, France in 1933. Having initial violin tuition from his father, he entered the Nice Conservatory aged eight and from there progressed to the Paris Conservatoire in 1944, where he won prizes for violin and chamber music. Georges Enesco was his mentor for a time. His early career was spent travelling the world and giving concerts. His art represents the very best attributes of the Franco-Belgian School with its emphasis on tone, timbre and colour. His life was to end tragically. Battling alcoholism and depression from the mid-sixties onwards, his career suffered as a result. He did, however, accept a professorship at the Paris Conservatoire in 1975, and made a comeback to concert-giving in the early part of 1982. This rehabilitation was only short-lived. Tragically, on 14 September 1982 he took his own life at the age of 49.

We go to Stuttgart for the earliest of the recordings, the Beethoven Concerto. The date is 22 March 1954 and the orchestra is the Südfunk-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart under Müller-Kray. I have to say from the very start that I’m not over-enamoured with Müller-Kray’s conducting, which is lacklustre, lethargic and uninspiring yet, fortunately, it doesn’t put Ferras off his stride. He was a young man of twenty, and the performance is imbued with youthful zeal, technical surety and artful musicianship. It’s the perfect fusion of youthful ardour and patrician elegance. Intonation in the soaring lines of the slow movement is perfect, and the phrases are eloquently shaped. Müller-Kray redeems himself somewhat in the finale, keeping the music buoyant and rhythmically alert.

The same forces accompany Ferras in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto from three years later. Again I love Ferras’ playing but am disappointed with Müller-Kray, whose conducting is staid and on automatic pilot. The Canzonetta is particularly soulful and soused in wistful nostalgia. Ferras embellishes the line with expressive slides and position changes. In the finale his spiccatos sparkle and the g string passage has plenty of bloom and vibrancy.

The Brahms Concerto was taped in Hamburg on 8 February 1959 with the NDR-Sinfonieorchester under the baton of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. In the first movement Schmidt-Isserstedt savors the big build up leading to the soloist’s entry. Ferras demonstrates a fabulous technique, and there’s much passion and earthy texture to his playing. There are moments of serene radiance in the meltingly lyrical sections. He's particularly impressive in Kreisler’s cadenza. A beautiful oboe solo ushers in a magical Adagio, and here Ferras is poised and expressive. Rubato is sparing, and the line is free flowing and natural sounding, with everything being allowed to breathe. The finale is bracing and rhythmically taut. Schmidt-Isserstedt injects plenty of gusto and energy into the accompaniment.

The Prokofiev Concerto from 1961 has a spacious and fresh opener. Ferras’ palette and tonal opulence is ideal for such a canvas. Dean Dixon and the HR-Sinfonieorchester are with him all the way. The witty Scherzo is spiky, quixotic and mercurial. The finale is intensely passionate and rhapsodic. All told, it’s a terrific performance and is the highlight of the set for me.

The radio recordings are in excellent sound for their age and provenance, and are an eloquent testimony to the refined artistry of a great violinist. It’s a tragedy that Ferras died far too young, but these recordings certainly do his memory proud.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Marc Bridle

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