Ferras memoire RH023

Christian Ferras (violin)
à la mémoire d’un ange
rec. 1946-1971

This 5-CD release commemorates the 40th anniversary of the death of Christian Ferras whose suicide at the age of 49 so impoverished the violin world. It contains works central to his repertoire but also includes nuggets such as extracts and early speeches from radio that round out a portrait of the artist. Indeed, the subtitle of the box, ‘à la mémoire d’un ange’, though drawn from Berg’s Concerto, is clearly meant, also, to apply to Ferras himself.

The first disc contains a standard Ferras programme familiar from the mid-50s. You will find a similar one on SWR’s recent 4-CD release; Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and the sonatas of Debussy and Enescu, Ferras’s one-time teacher (No.3 – Ferras’s favourite).  There are coughs from the audience in the HR Studio, Frankfurt, and one or two small blemishes on the tape but the Beethoven is a typically resilient performance with finely calibrated variations and a masculine dispatch of the finale. Some pellucid slides irradiate the Debussy which is elastic in phraseology and has lashings of colour in the central movement and ripe piquancy in the finale – though overall it’s a touch slower than I prefer. The Enescu here is evocative and ripe, the central movement full of an almost quasi-improvisatory flair. His first radio appearance is also included, from September 1946 when Ferras was all of 13. He plays snippets of the Dinicu-Heifetz Hora staccato and Beethoven’s Romance No.2 and can be heard in a two-minute interview.

Disc 2 includes two performances of Paganini’s Concerto No.1, the first from March 1954 with his then ever-present colleague Pierre Barbizet, and then from a matter of eight months later with Schmidt-Isserstedt directing in Hamburg. Barbizet employs the piano reduction of another glamorous hero of the French violin school René Benedetti (who recorded it in 1941) – and Ferras plays Benedetti’s cadenza too. The finale is actually funnier with piano accompaniment; the bare bones reduction allows one to savour Paganini’s wit unfettered. I’ve reviewed the orchestrally accompanied version when it appeared on Tahra. I thought I detected some bumps on the tape of the 1958 recording of Bach’s Concerto No.2 with the Toulouse orchestra conducted by Louis Auriacombe but in the central movement Ferras is simply ravishing.

The Brahms Concerto that heads CD 3 is a performance in Boston in 1959 (in stereo), with Charles Munch directing and providing taut, Paray-like support. The Boston audience clearly took to the performance and applaud ecstatically after the end of the first movement and again after the finale. In the Mozart G major, recorded in Vatican City, Ferras is joined by the Rome RAI and Rudolf Kempe. The beefy acoustic is against things, Kempe sounds uninspired, and Ferras sounds over intense, if Grumiaux is your yardstick here, with a showy cadenza in the first movement and an over-agitated finale. Not a great success.  Bisecting the concertos is a long 10-minute talk from Ferras with interviewer Franz Walter. They discuss his career, in French.

Berg’s Concerto was taped in Berlin in 1956 with Paul Kletzki conducting the RSO Berlin. Both men collaborate finely, finding the graphic moods and intensity of the work. Though it’s in mono, it’s certainly in clear enough sound. Jean Martinon’s Concerto No.2 (Rotterdam Philharmonic, Jean Fournet, 1970 and in stereo) can also be heard on Doremi in a slightly earlier reading with the ORTF and Charles Bruck. This was originally Szeryng’s work and he recorded it with Kubelík but Ferras stamps his own authority on it marvellously. It has rich melodic appeal, capricious rhythmic interest and some expressionist tinges in the central movement before a more brittle – but captivatingly brittle – finale. There are some smaller pieces in this disc too, not least an off-the-cuff interview performance of the cadenza of Federico ‘Fred’ Elizalde’s Concerto (Elizalde had been a luminary of the Hot Dance scene in London in the 20s).

The final fifth disc lines up three works. Chausson’s Poème was performed at the United Nations General Assembly Hall with Serge Baudo inspiring the Orchestre de Paris to give of their best. Whilst Ferras is not as fast as he was the following year (see Meloclassic) he is alert and full of fervent colour. Next comes Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with an omitted Intermezzo which finds Ferras set a little too back in the acoustic. Nevertheless, he still manages to communicate a full complement of piquant and exciting colours in the Andante. The set’s final item pairs Ferras with Karajan in Sibelius. For several years Ferras was a favourite of the conductor’s and they made a number of recordings together including a famous one of the Sibelius in 1965. Here, in 1971, things get better as the work develops, Ferras marshalling his reserves of power and strength so that he surmounts the slow movement with expressive clarity and doesn’t for a moment flag in a finale in which others can come to grief. It’s a triumph of the soloist’s art and Karajan directs with grandeur and control.

As usual from this source, the track listing is laid out in exemplary clarity and the booklet notes complement the discs attractively. There is a considerable amount of live Ferras in the market at the moment but this one contains enough novelties and surprises to keep even Ferras’s most committed supporters happy. This is a fine salute to a much-lamented musician. 

Jonathan Woolf

Availability: Rhine Classics


CD1 | 71:21

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No.9 op.47 “à Kreutzer”

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Violin Sonata in G minor *

George Enescu (1881-1955)

Violin Sonata No.3 Op.25 “in popular romanian style”

Pierre Barbizet, piano | HR Frankfurt, 2 & 12*.IV.1954

early fragments & french interviews:

– Dinicu/Heifetz Hora staccato

– Beethoven Romanze No.2 Op.50

Mireille Monard, piano | RDF Paris, IX.1946

CD2 | 74:39

Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840)

Violin Concerto No.1 in D major, Op.6 (Cadenza: René Benedetti)

– 1 – (piano reduction) Pierre Barbizet | Paris, 5.III.1954

– 2 – NDR SO | Hans-Schmidt Isserstedt | Hamburg, 15.XI.1954

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Violin Concerto No.2 in E major, BWV 1042

O Ch Toulouse | Louis Auriacombe | Menton, 4.VIII.1958

CD3 | 73:09

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (Cadenza: Kreisler)

BSO | Charles Munch | Boston, 7.III.1959

Christian Ferras speaks about his life and career | Geneva, 6.IV.1960

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Violin Concerto No.3 in G major, K.216

OS RAI Roma | Rudolf Kempe | Vatican City, 20.IV.1963

CD4 | 76:05

Alban Berg (1885-1935)

Violin Concerto “To the Memory of an Angel”

RSO Berlin | Paul Kletzki | Berlin, 23.IV.1956

Christian Ferras speaks about Berg Violin Concerto | Geneva, 3.IV.1957

Jean Martinon (1910-1976)

Violin Concerto No.2 Op.51 (1958)

Rotterdam PO | Jean Fournet | Rotterdam, 15.III.1970

early fragments & French interviews:

– Elizalde Violin Concerto: Cadenza + speech w. Gaston Poulet & Federico Elizalde | RDF Paris, II.1948

– Ravel Tzigane | RDF Paris, I.1949

CD5 | 76:48

Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)

Poème Op.25

O de Paris | Serge Baudo | New York, 24.X.1968

Édouard Lalo (1823-1892)

Symphonie espagnole in D minor, Op.21 (short version)

O Phil ORTF | Roberto Benzi | Paris, 17.I.1971

Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47

BPO | Herbert von Karajan | Berlin, 25.IX.1971