Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto; Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Christian Ferras, violin
Constantin Silvestri, conductor
Price range: $28-229, mean $101 on popsike
Comments: In the early years of stereo, there were basically four big name violinists who recorded for EMI/Columbia: Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, and Christian Ferras. Menuhin was more or less the house violinist for the EMI ASD series. Oistrakh and Kogan seem to share honors for the SAX label, though in terms of sheer quantity, Oistrakh produced more albums than Kogan. Ferras (1933-1982), a French violinist, made about a half dozen or so stereo albums for EMI -- concertos by Bruch, Lalo, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Berg, Brahms (double with Paul Tortelier) along with some solo instrumental work. One of his great musical partnerships was with the French pianist, Pierre Barbizet, with whom he performed and recorded several works for violin and piano, including the violin sonatas of Franck, Lekeu, Brahms, and Schumann for EMI and Deutsche Grammophon. In fact, his one album with Barbizet recorded for EMI is his rarest EMI album and has sold for hundreds if not over a thousand dollars (still on sale at classicalvinyl.com for 960 GBP). The other rare Ferras ASD is ASD 427, a recording of Mozart's 4th and 5th violin concertos with Andre Vandernoot conducting the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra, which sold for over 700 GBP in 2011. Ferras later went on to make a number of concerto recordings with Herbert von Karajan on the Deutsche Grammophon label in the mid 1960s. Sadly, he suffered from depression throughout much of his life and took his own life in Paris on September 14, 1982.
This is a nice performance and recording of these two powerhouse concertos. Ferras plays beautifully throughout. Sound is warm with mostly good clarity except at some of the loud climaxes. There is a good balance between soloist and orchestra. One small qualm I have about this recording is that Ferras and Silvestri take a few cuts in the Tchaikovsky, which sound pretty obvious, presumably to allow the entire concerto to fit on one side of a record. Ferras recorded the Tchaikovsky again with Karajan for DG, and I actually prefer this version both for a better performance and better sound.
Some of Ferras' stereo recordings (Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Lalo concertos; Franck and Lekeu sonatas) can be purchased on a 2 CD set on the Andromeda label entitled "Christian Ferras: The Columbia Recordings".
**If you find that you would like to explore more of Christian Ferras' art, there is a really nice 4 CD budget boxed set of Christian Ferras and Pierre Barbizet on the Brilliant Classics label.
I recently found another copy of this LP with earlier matrix numbers (-2, -4). Listening again, a few more observations came to mind. In the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, for some odd reason, Ferras is staged hard left, not center. It's almost as if he is standing in front of the first violin section. In fact, stereo separation for the whole side of the LP is essentially hard left and right, with a hole in the middle. Imaging is a bit weak here, too. The presentation is a bit distant, as in many of these early EMI recordings. However, the earlier -2 matrix number on side 1 conveyed more music and less distortion. Orchestral tuttis were powerful without edginess. I found myself far more satisfied with this pressing than the last. Side 2 has the same matrix number as my first copy (-4) and was comparable in sound quality. Here, Ferras is appropriately positioned in the center, and the orchestra is better staged around him with improved center-fill. Imaging is also more precise. In summary, this new copy bumps my rating up to a 7+, borderline 8 for sound.