La Fête a Stradivarius! Vol. I = MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218; Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; BRAHMS: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77 – Christian Ferras, violin/Orchestra Scarlatti di Napoli/ Pietro Argento (Mozart K. 218)/Ida Haendel, violin/Orchestra della RAI di Roma/Ferruccio Scalia (Mozart, K. 219)/ Zino Francescatti, violin/Orchestra della RAI di Torino/Fernando Previtali (Mendelssohn)/ Gioconda de Vito, violin/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eugen Jochum (Brahms)
Tahra TAH 670-671, 2 CD 57:24; 70:01 [www.tahra.com] ****:
Tahra institutes in this initial release a series devoted to violin, particularly the extraordinary instruments created by the most illustrious Cremona family, Stradivarius. The four violinists featured here constitute a minor aristocracy of talent, each plying his or her especial violin in collaborations devoted to four of the great staples of the repertory.
Christian Ferras (1933-1982), the spectacular but forever tragic graduate of the Nice Conservatoire, gained international renown after 1964, when he and Herbert von Karajan inscribed a series of major concertos for DGG. Ferras’ eerily sensuous tone can be heard to astounding advantage in the Mozart D Major Concerto (21 February 1958), played at the height of his powers. A powerful performance from first to last, the collaboration brings a burnished intensity to Mozart amplified by an idiosyncratic vibrato. His instrument, the 1728 Milanallo, projects a lush piercing sound heard in brilliant array in the second movement cadenza. Simultaneously luminous and fragile, the music’s patina casts a heavenly romance upon Mozart’s otherwise youthful prowess in this majestic concerto. Ferras’ technical excellence proceeds flawlessly, a broad river of sound. The last movement, Rondo: Andante grazioso shimmers with pungent, direct attacks; yet each phrase has a rounded, polished character, eminently sweet and lustrous.
Ida Haendel (b. 1928), the sage of the violin from Chelm, Poland, has played a 1699 Stradivariius for over thirty-five years. From RAI Rome (11 January 1958) Haendel performs an exquisitely molded A Major Concerto of Mozart, as delicate as it is introspectively focused. Her tone is somewhat thin and nasal, but the projection remains fierce, the tonal accuracy never less than remarkable. Like Milstein, Haendel urges the music forward mercilessly, challenging her conductor to keep in step. Her lyrical top line shines in a way thoroughly beguiling, floating almost detached from the harmonies that support it. The phrasing prances vocally, certainly in full cognizance of The Abduction from the Seraglio. The miraculous broadly conceived Adagio enchants us by its plaintive subjective phrasing, the variegated woodwind colors that interweave with Haendel’s persuasive violin. The otherwise simple procession of the melodic line and its few ornaments rises up because of the innate nobility of the conception. The Rondo: Tempo di menuetto begins innocently enough, galant, in a pseudo-antique style. Suddenly, Haendel urges the music forward, leaning into drooping phrases with a Heifetz-like disingenuousness. The little eddies of sound, the Eastern curlicues, envelop us without our realizing how subtle an incense has commanded. The janissary figures begin their wild dance and variations, and we become willingly lost in the mesmeric haze of the moment. O felix culpa!
Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) sported a lovely “Hart” Stradivarius of 1727, an instrument he acquired in 1942. Always praised for his innate musical sensitivity and luminous tone, Francescatti often performed the Mendelssohn Concerto to great effect, and his streamlined approach here (18 December 1953) with the gifted Fernando Previtali from Turin combines poetry and muscular zeal. Francescatti used to quip, “I put the sun into my violin!” Certainly, an illumined disposition marks this performance, the clarity of line and elegance of articulation inspired at every turn. After the first movement cadenza, Previtali takes up the main theme with that nervous excitement that marked the Francescatti commercial inscription with Mitropoulos. The C Major Adagio resonates with lyrical mysticism, almost a lullaby, whose nly dark moments enter in the middle, A Minor section. Francescatti dotes on the brief E Minor bridge passage to the frisky E Major fanfare and Rondo, all sparkling fairy dust and quicksilver dialogues between solo and woodwinds. To call the last pages and coda frenetic is to understate the fevered rush to judgment Francescatti and Previtali make of the old warhorse, now ablaze with passion.
Giaconda de Vito (1907-1994) plays her adored 1690 Toscano Stradivarius, a gift from the Italian government which she insisted become the perennial property of the Academy of Santa Cecilia so as to belong to the whole of humanity. Da Vito and Eugen Jochum perform an eminently stately and refined Brahms Concerto (15 November 1956) from Munich. When De Vito settles into the main theme, her double notes and broken chords elicit wonderful elasticity, a superb sympathy for this music, which she revered. Those who know the set of Brahms symphonies with Eugen Jochum for DGG or his equally compelling reading of the Concerto with Nathan Milstein for DGG can well appreciate the respective luster and delicacy he brings to the orchestral tissue that often treats the solo as an obbligato extension of the massive texture. The elucidation of the theme in the horns just prior to the recapitulation in solo and flute proves quite stunning, especially as it precedes a mystical serenity in variation of the same motifs. De Vito imbibes the Joachim cadenza with a decided personal character, whimsical and forceful at once. The F Major Adagio–the silence of the violin during the oboe solo notwithstanding–is a pearl of infinite price, De Vito’s tone a rare combination of Szigeti’s pinched, nasality and–in the throes of the last chords–Menuhin’s aching humanity. The fiery Hungarian rondo: Allegro giocoso exudes the requisite panache in spades, Da Vito climbing the D Major scale as a gypsy Parnassus, the Bavarian Radio horns in regal splendor.
A special set, this Stradivarius feast, superbly mounted and reverently restored by C. Eddi. Highly recommended to all connoisseurs of great violin artistry.