Ruggiero Ricci & Martha Argerich = BEETHOVEN: Sonata in E-flat Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 12, No. 3; PROKOFIEV: Solo Sonata for Violin in D Major, Op. 115; BARTOK: Sonatina for Violin and Piano (arr. Gertler); Sonata for Violin Solo; SARASATE: Introduction and Tarantella, Op. 43; RAVEL: Piano Concerto in G Major – Martha Argerich, p./ Ruggiero Ricci, v./ Southwest German Radio Orch./ Ernest Bour – Doremi DHR-8040, 79:22 (7/10/15) [Distr. by Allegro] *****:

In the spring of 1961 the youthful Argentinian piano virtuoso Martha Argerich (b. 1941) began touring in Russia with veteran violin master Ruggiero Ricci (1918-2012), and some of their collaborative work endures, courtesy of these inscriptions from 21 April 1961, Leningrad. Except for his elusive London disc with pianist Friedrich Gulda, Ricci’s thoughts in Beethoven’s sonata repertory remain few and far between.  Ricci’s vibrant tone exalts the melodic line in the E-flat Sonata’s noted Adagio con espessione, in which he and Argerich achieve palpable, intimate intensity.  In the Rondo finale, Argerich delivers a series of jabbing attacks and bravura filigree to which Ricci responds with unbuttoned flair.

Sergei Prokofiev composed his Solo Sonata for Violin in 1947, claiming he wished to write an extended  etude in a clean, classical manner. The Moderato takes its cue from solo Bach, with a melodic angularity typical of Prokofiev, rife with spectacular sudden effects. The centerpiece Andante dolce presents a theme and lyrical variations obviously dear to Ricci’s heart, since he gave the premier of the work in Moscow 10 July 1959. The last movement, Con brio: Allegro precipitato presents a mazurka rhythm whose light but brilliant character does not relieve the work from testing Ricci’s capacity for double-stops.

The so-called Sonatina in D of Bela Bartok (1916), based on Transylvania folk songs, has been arranged by Andre Gertler into three movements, strong in Bulgarian rhythm, much like many of the composer’s Mikrokosmos entries.  Roughly hewn but eminently approachable, the short, energetic movements make a decided contrast to the 1944 Sonata for Solo Violin commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin.  The general sensibility of the entire work – as an homage to Menuhin – pays debts to Bach, but its highly expressive power “belongs” to Debussy’s influence and to the innate power of Hungarian modal harmony.

The immense Tempo di ciaccona casts a “severe” hue over everything it touches; and despite its having been wrought in sonata-form, its unrelenting risoluto imbues it with the weight of a chaconne.  Opening staccato, Ricci intones the three-voice Fuga, a movement that tests his bowing flexibility and shifts of registration, alternating arco and plucked filigree. Ricci realizes this acerbic exercise with hectic fury.  Despite the designation Melodia (Adagio), the slow movement consistently demands huge stretches in the intervals, abetted by trills, flutters, harmonics, and tremolos. Ricci imparts Bartok’s “night music” affect upon this highly charged soliloquy. The Presto finale requires more special effects, including muted buzzing and rapid passagework that the composer initially wanted in “Eastern” quarter-tones. Ricci imparts a ferocious momentum that carries us all forward, passionately, convulsively. Even the ostensibly quiet moments suffer a tic that only Kafka could fully appreciate.

To conclude the joint recital, we have a patented Ricci spectacular, the Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella, the commercial performance of which featured pianist Brooks Smith. Ricci sails up the vocal line and then adds crisp, rotary flourishes and glissandos that dazzle the mind. Argerich’s contribution lies in a percussive and explosive keyboard part that fits Ricci like a frenzied glove. Each repetition of the Italian dance picks up speed and whimsical character until the Leningrad audience concedes it has been overpowered.

As a bonus, Jacob Harnoy attaches a performance from Baden-Baden (4 February 1960) of Argerich and Ernest Bour (1913-2001) in Ravel’s G Major Concerto.  The elegant combination of jazz and Gallic lyricism provides a perfect vehicle for the 19-year-old firebrand, who can apply the tender brush or the acetylene torch at will. The orchestral response certainly complements Argerich’s febrile, erotic performance, the winds and percussion cackling, croaking, and luxuriating in the interplay of color motives. The second movement proffers one of Ravel’s most beautiful – and hard won – keyboard melodies, assisted by seductive woodwinds. The last movement, all acrobatics and circus colors, likely served as Ravel’s “answer” to Saint-Saens and Gershwin, both. The performance, pure firecrackers and gamelan bells served during a volcanic eruption, takes us at once to Bali and a Dixieland in outer space.

—Gary Lemco