In this second installment of the Ricci/Argerich Leningrad recitals, they can do no musical wrong.
Martha Argerich and Ruggiero Ricci: Leningrad Recital II, 1961 = BACH: Chaconne from Partita No 2 in d minor, BWV 1004; BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1; FRANCK: Violin Sonata in A Major; BARTOK: 6 Romanian Folk Dances for Violin and Piano; PAGANINI: Introduction and Variations on Paisiello’s “Nel cor piu non mi sento, Op. 38; TARTINI: Violin Sonata in g minor “Devil’s Trill” – Ruggiero Ricci, violin/ Martha Argerich, piano – Doremi DHR-8053, 81:55 (1/15/18) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
The second album dedicated to the 1961 Leningrad appearances by violinist Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012) and pianist Martha Argerich captures their individual intensities (on April 22) while demonstrating how seamlessly their personalities blend in the common cause of musical realization. Ricci opens solo, with a monumental performance of the 1720 Chaconne from the Second Partita, a testament as much to physical stamina as it remains an awesome tribute to Bach’s inventive genius, with its 64 variations on a ground bass theme. Ricci manages to traverse its musical periods and shifts of mood with a clear sense of linear direction without a moment of sag. Only in the D Major section does the music—and the performer—evince any sense of release from the grip of a titanic urgency for a musical form to resolve itself, having passed through virtually every technical and polyphonic device the instrument’s four strings can sustain.
The sheer energy of the occasion does not diminish with Riccci and Argerich’s collaboration in the 1797 D Major Sonata of Beethoven, dedicated to Salieri. The two outer movements, aggressively optimistic in tone, bespeak the composer’s sense of true balance between the instruments. Wit as well bravura permeates the opening Allegro con brio, with its tendency a la Haydn to delay the coda with a quick jaunt in to the realm of F Major. The concluding Rondo in 6/8 abounds with jabbing sforzandos that lie just off the beat, a trademark of a composer whose rhythmic sense seems rooted in the depths of Nature. The real heart of this performance lies in the Tema con Variazioni movement, with music in A Major divided into two themes that undergoes four variants, the third in the tonic minor. Rarely has this flowing music been driven so fiercely.
The large work of the evening, Cesar Franck’s 1868 wedding gift to violinist Eugene Ysaye, the A Major Violin Sonata, generates its own mystique. The three-note opening germ cell perpetually modulates and transforms in the “cyclic” style Franck adapted from both Beethoven and Liszt. Even though the second movement Allegro proceeds in sonata-form, the sheer rush of passion from Ricci and Argerich overrides any consideration of form. Argerich’s bass seems to emerge from a volcano, while Ricci’s banshee violin explodes with a rapture only a moment away from Tristan. Argerich intones the cell of the rhapsodic Recitativo-Fantasia in somber bells. After Ricci’s entry, the keyboard part lightens in texture, allowing a song to emerge of singular, sustained beauty and intensely molded figuration. Each instrument has moments of solo utterance; then, they blend in stepwise motion to an emotional consummation. More than once, Argerich’s liquid arpeggios invoke thoughts of Debussy, while Ricci’s trill pushes away the stratosphere. The justly famous canon that defines the last movement Allegro poco mosso bears a message of sweet, plastic intimacy. The main theme recurs four times, rondo fashion, while the connecting tissue iterates tunes from previous movements, a demonstration of musical economy here realized as whirlwind lovers’ embrace.
Somehow, the works succeeding the Franck do not proffer an anti-climax, if only because Ricci’s throaty approach to Bartok’s 6 Romanian Folk Dances rings with stern conviction. The music crackles with the same witty inflection we have so often gleaned from Ricci’s playing in Sarasate. High harmonics, strident gypsy effects, and sudden shifts into murky whole-tone passages pose no obstacle. And for sheer melodic sweetness few—excepting fellow Persinger graduate Menuhin—can compete with Ricci’s tonal ardor. Of course, the music of Paganini seems heaven-sent to Ricci’s bow arm; and his second solo of the evening, the 1821 Sonata appassionata after Paisiello, the so-called La molinara, abounds with every bravura technique we know from the Op. 1 Caprices. Ricci’s spiccato and high harmonics, double and triple stops, bariolage, and spread pizzicati all combine in an elegant and vivacious seven minutes that quite literally take the breath from his Leningrad audience.
For their final number, Ricci and Argerich combine in Tartini’s 1732 Op. 1, No. 4 Sonata in g minor, “Devil’s Trill.” The product – according to a 1760s note by the composer—of a dream in which he had handed his violin to the Devil—the twelve-minute piece approximates His Satanic Majesty’s realization of his musical skills. Curiously, the work takes the form of a church sonata. The last movement, Grave – Allegro assai, projects a nobility and stately grandeur that might make us forgive the Envy that Dante claims became the cause of all Hellish ambition. Certainly, Argerich and Ricci can do no wrong.