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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

RECORD KEEPING | Martha Argerich And Ruggiero Ricci's Historic 1961 Leningrad Performance Is Still Jaw-Dropping

By Paul E. Robinson on March 7, 2018

The Toronto-based record company DOREMI, one of whose missions is to celebrate the artistry of Martha Argerich, has already released five volumes of live performances plus an additional CD devoted mainly to one of two recitals given by Ruggiero Ricci and Argerich in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1961. The first concert was given on April 21 and the second, released on this new CD, the following night.

Earlier in 1961, Argerich had created a sensation when her first commercial recording (for Deutsche Grammophon) was released to rave reviews. Her career really caught fire when she won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1965. At the time of the recital captured on this recording, Argerich was only 19 years old and her partner, 43-year old American violinist Ruggiero Ricci, was much better known.

At the height of his fame, Ricci was recognized as one of the great virtuosos of his time, able to toss off the most difficult works with the greatest of ease. On this new CD, Ricci’s virtuosity is on full display in Paganini’s variations on a theme by Paisiello for unaccompanied violin. Paganini, a violinist himself, had a genius for devising myriad technical challenges for his instrument, and at the time, he was probably the only one who could play such pieces. More recently, violin teaching has improved to the point where many violinists can play these Paganini showpieces, although few of them as well as Ricci. Ricci’s truly “jaw-dropping” performance on this CD was obviously appreciated by the Leningrad concert audience; just listen to the murmurs after Ricci tosses off some astonishing left-hand pizzicati.

Bach: Beethoven: Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 1 in D major Op. 12 No. 1. Franck: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major. Bartók: 6 Hungarian Folk Dances Sz.56. Paganini: Introduction and Variations for solo violin on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” from Paisiello’s opera, La bella molinara. Tartini: Sonata for Violin and Piano in g minor “Devil’s Trill”. Ruggiero Ricci, violin. Martha Argerich, piano. Leningrad Recital II, April 22, 1961. DOREMI DHR8053. Total Time: 81:55.
Bach: Beethoven: Sonata for Piano and Violin No. 1 in D major Op. 12 No. 1. Franck: Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major. Bartók: 6 Hungarian Folk Dances Sz.56. Paganini: Introduction and Variations for solo violin on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” from Paisiello’s opera, La bella molinara. Tartini: Sonata for Violin and Piano in g minor “Devil’s Trill”. Ruggiero Ricci, violin. Martha Argerich, piano. Leningrad Recital II, April 22, 1961. DOREMI DHR8053. Total Time: 81:55.

Although Ricci was not known for his Bach playing, in this recital he gives a wonderful performance of the great Chaconne. A technically, emotionally and intellectually challenging piece, Ricci plays it about as well as anyone.

Together, Ricci and Argerich really strike sparks in works by Beethoven, Franck and Bartók. For both players, in a performance by turns exciting and beautiful, the Franck is the pièce de résistance. At full volume and high-speed Argerich’s piano becomes murky but that is surely the fault of the instrument or the recording quality, not the artist.

Based on a Soviet radio broadcast, this CD begins with announcements in Russian. I would have preferred to hear more of the applause and have longer breaks between each piece, but that would have meant cutting some of the music, and at nearly 82 minutes in length this CD is already much longer than the norm. Sound quality? A little edgy on the violin, but considering the source and standards from nearly 60 years ago, it is remarkably good, and overall, both a welcome addition to the Argerich catalogue, and a reminder of the incomparable artistry of Ruggiero Ricci.

LUDWIG VAN TORONTO

Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.
Paul E. Robinson
Paul E. Robinson

Paul E. Robinson

Over the course of his career, Paul Evans Robinson has acquired a formidable reputation as a broadcaster, author, conductor, and teacher. He has communicated the joy of music to more than a generation of musicians and music lovers in Canada and elsewhere.
Paul E. Robinson
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