Christian Ferras, v. = Concertos of BEETHOVEN & BERG – Audite

by | Nov 27, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

Christian Ferras = BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61; BERG: Violin Concerto – Christian Ferras, violin/ Berlin Philharmonic/ Karl Boehm/ Radio-Symphony Orchestra Berlin/ Massimo Freccia (Berg) – Audite 95.590, 72:03 [Distr. By Naxos] *****:
The sublime violin artistry of Christian Ferras (1933-1982) still compels fascination and awe for a talent we were denied too soon in his otherwise meteoric career. A pupil of Bistesi, Calvet, Benedetti, and Enescu, Ferras exemplified the Franco-Belgian school of virtuosity and musicianship likewise exemplified by Thibaud, Francescatti, and Grumiaux. Ferras gave his first performance in Germany, of the Beethoven Concerto with Karl Boehm and the Berlin Philharmonic at the Titania Palast 18-19 November 1951. The present studio performance made the afternoon of 19 November was made at the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, a standard venue for recordings by Boehm, Furtwaengler, and Fricsay.
The finely wrought arch of the first movement of the Beethoven conveys intensely restrained passion and intimacy rather than earth-shaking gestures at the skies. The eighteen-year-old Ferras plies his instrument with exquisite tone affectionately, and it is little wonder that Yehudi Menuhin embraced Ferras as a kindred spirit. The sheer breadth of the first movement, with its cadenza by Fritz Kreisler, testifies to a leisurely vision that aficionados will affirm as “heavenly length.” The understated but technically acute cadenza glides seamlessly into the main tissue of the orchestra, and the tender melodic line rises with the woodwinds into an Apollinian vision of exalted power. Boehm’s own capacity for orchestral transparency exerts itself in the G Major theme and variations, the horn and solo violin merging and then parting with Ferras’ exquisitely wrought trills.  The plastic serenity they conjure in this movement justifies the price of admission, the musical periods lush, articulated with a deep resonance and simplicity of natural emotion. The Rondo erupts with the epic, “masculine” energy that has been under restraint until now. Ferras’ attacks sizzle; his double stops assume a richer, symphonic vibrancy. The secondary theme with bassoon accompaniment, however, proffers a lyrical song of extraordinary tenderness; and it was this sound that impresarios all over Europe sought when they engaged the prodigy Christian Ferras.
The concert performance of the Violin Concerto by Alban Berg (23 March 1964) with the gifted Massimo Freccia (1906-2004) allows Ferras to impress a Romantic sensibility on a modernist work whose “programmatic” means render the personality of a fallen “angel,” the eighteen-year-old Manon Gropius, daughter of the famous architect Walter Gropius and Alma Mahler. If Manon has a requiem lament to open the Concerto, the “second movement” Allegretto offers the many-sidedness of her character: vivacious, charming, and whimsical at once. The violin and horn enter into a duet based on a Carinthian folksong that scholars have linked to a youthful affair in Berg’s life that led to an illegitimate daughter. Manon Gropius may well have served as an idealized substitute for his “lost” child. Berg incorporates figures in the wind section from Bach’s Cantata No. 60, Dialogue Between Fear and Hope, as part of the darker second half of the concerto, an extended Klagegesang, a song of mourning. Even more programmatic may be the violin’s anguished chords and grueling leaps, perhaps allusions to the polio that claimed Manon’s life. Ferras’ sound becomes increasingly ecstatic, “pure” in the most distilled sense. We feel as though we have been lifted into an entirely numinous sphere, and that the “fallen angel” most celebrated in this mystical reading is Ferras himself.
–Gary Lemco

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