A handsome young violinist remembered.
John Austin | Kangaroo Ground, Australia | 06/01/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Two exciting violinists emerged from France onto the international scene soon after the end of W W 2. One was Ginette Neveu, the other Christian Ferras. I heard them both perform before an airplane crash ended the life of one and illness restricted the career of the other. This CD restores to the market some of the best recordings made by Christian Ferras, when he was in his early 20s. He seems indisputably at home in this all French repertoire. He captures the languorous mood of the once popular Poeme, by Chausson. Unlike Neveu, who employed very little vibrato, Ferras begins his unaccompanied entry here with plenty of vibrato, and he finishes the piece with some beautifully executed high trills. The Ravel Tzigane has the entire requisite fire and color in this version, with orchestral accompaniment in its second half. The nowadays neglected solo violin sonata by Honneger unites Neveu and Ferras. She provided the fingerings for the published edition, and Ferras gave its first performance in 1948, following with this "creator" record in 1953. Double and treble stoppings abound especially in the outer movements. The emotional content of the two middle movements is especially striking. In the Debussy violin sonata and Faure's second violin sonata Ferras is accompanied by Pierre Barbizet. Collectors might approach this Decca Legends reissue with hesitation, knowing that Decca recording techniques and violins were incompatible in the early 1950s. I can report that there is no need for such hesitation. Everything here was comfortably and successfully recorded and the remastering has done justice to the recordings and the memory of a fine artist."
Discophage | France | 09/06/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For the average music lover, the French violinist Christian Ferras will probably be remembered mainly for the series of Concerto recordings he made with Karajan on DG in the mid-sixties (now conveniently collated on The Great Violin Concertos). But Ferras had a recording life before his Karajan/DG years, and it began in 1947 with a rarity, Federico Elizalde's Violin Concerto; amazingly the violinist was barely 14 (see my review of the nice Testament CD collating this first recording and two other early recordings and rarities, Concertos of Rodrigo and Semenoff, from 1952: Rodrigo: Concierto de estio; Semenoff; Double Concerto; Elizalde; Violin Concerto). Ferras then shared his recording activities between Decca and Telefunken (none of the latter have been reissued). From 1957 to 1964 he moved to EMI, and this period of his life his documented on Les Introuvables de Christian Ferras, Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto; Brahms: Double Concerto and Beethoven: Violin Sonatas; Cello Sonatas.
The present disc nicely collates the content of two of these early LPs recorded by Decca. DEC LXT 2827 had Ravel's Tzigane and Chausson's Poème both conducted by George Sebastian leading the National Orchestra of Belgium, with Honegger's rare solo violin Sonata as a substantial bonus; all were recorded in January 1953 (the CD booklet nicely reproduces the original LP cover). DEC LXT 2810 had Debussy's sonata and Fauré's 2nd Sonata, played with Ferras' devoted and long time partner, Pierre Barbizet (October 1953). Ferras was 20 years-old.
These recordings are of significance for the Ferras devotee, as they represent his only recording of Chausson's poem and of the orchestral version of Ravel's Tzigane: he had done the piano version two years earlier with Barbizet on Decca - still unreissued - and re-did it in 1962 with the same partner, a recording available in an EMI all-Ravel Chamber music 2 CD set: Ravel: Musique de chambre). Needless to say, this is also his only recording the Honegger Sonata - a work seldom played and recorded by anybody, anyway; the liner notes expressed the hope that the present reissue (made in 2001) would prompt a revival of interest for the composition - brave hope! The solo violin is an severe instrument and a demanding one for performer and listener alike; beside Bach's awesome masterpieces, few 20th Century composer have managed to make up for the instrument's essential austerity with a sense of color and/or an impressive architectural construction - Bartok, Nielsen, Bloch and Ysaye come to (my) mind - and one regrets that Britten didn't try his hand at one. As fine as it is, I don't think the Honegger Sonata is quite in that league.
As for the Debussy and Fauré items, Ferras and Barbizt re-recorded them for EMI respectively in 1962 (the Debussy is now on Debussy: Musique de Chambre; it originally came with the Ravel and Enescu's 3rd Violin and Piano Sonata, the latter now on the "Introuvables" set) and 1964 (with Fauré's 1st, both on "The Introuvables").
Ferras presents an unually expansive view of Chausson's Poem (compare his 18:44 to Oistrakh's 15:30 with Munch in 1955, Chausson - Symphony, Poeme + Saint-Saens (RCA) or Heifetz' 13:16 with Izler Solomon in 1952, Heifetz Showpieces - Lalo Symphonie Espagnole op 21; Saint-Saens Havanaise op 83, Intro & Rondo op 28; Sarasate Zigeunerweisen op 20; Chausson Poeme op 25 (RCA Gold Seal)), one that is plangently lyrical and sorrowful but has little of the fire and intense passion that Heifetz brought to it a year before. On the other hand, despite an undisciplined orchestra, Ferras contributes a great Ravel Tzigane, idiomatically gipsy: he's got the bite and the swagger and the exaggerated sentimentality that the piece requires, he tosses off with stupendous ease all the score's fiendish technical difficulties and (except for some pizz triplets which he plays as chords at 9:21) all within a precise observance of Ravel's rhythms ad articulation marks (his 1962 remake with Barbizet is much more undisciplined). Some of that Tzigane spirit has spilled over into his Debussy Sonata, in the glissandos he spices the first movement with (sounding almost like a cat meow at 1:15), or again in the mockingly sentimental way he phrases the passage "double plus lent" (twice as slow - and he takes it more slowly than that too) in the finale at 1:19, but it is not so much in character here and indeed makes the Sonata sound like a parent to Enescu's 3rd. Otherwise Ferras and Barbizet offer an interesting and original viewpoint, significantly broader than Debussy's metronome mark and rather free in its observance of his indications of tempos and dynamics - announcing an approach best exemplified by Oistrakh in 1966 (with Frida Bauer), and nowadays established practice of course. His later version is similar in conception, but more disciplined, and more luminous in tone. Here Barbizet also sounds a bit too recessed for the snap to fully come out.
The sound is good for its vintage, but don't expect the impossible: it is mono, with tape hiss, and some dryness in the Violin and Piano pieces and lack of crystal clarity in the piano. But nonetheless the instrumental definition is good.
With the addition of Brahms' Violin Concerto with Schuricht and Mozart's 3rd with Münchinger in 1954 (Brahms: Violin Concerto; Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3), this rounds off Ferras' Decca recordings now available on CD. The rest - for Decca: Bach's Concertos conducted by Enescu, two Mozart sonatas with Barbizet and 6th Concerto with Münchinger, miscellaneous short pieces, and with Telefunken, Beethoven's Romances with Leopold Ludwig conducting the Hamburg Orchestra and Sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms with Barbizet - remain unreissued. I am indebted for this discographic information to the remarkable website maintained by the Ferras association.
Tully Potter's notes are, as always, a goldmine of erudite and precise information - except for one thing. Ferras didn't just "die": he committed suicide in 1982, a few month after an attempted and apparently rather successful come back. He had been plagued for years by terrible depression and alcoholism, which had kept him away from stage and recording since the end of the sixties. He wasn't yet fifty.