Notes and Editorial Reviews
Romances: No. 1 in G;
No. 2 in F
Zino Francescatti (vn); Jean Morel, cond;
Eugene Ormandy, cond;
BIDDULPH 80205, mono (59:39)
Zino Francescatti’s only studio recording of Beethoven’s two Romances comes from a single session on April 23, 1952. Columbia had chosen Francescatti as a dapper alternative to RCA’s dynamic Jascha Heifetz, a role in which Francescatti would soon be eclipsed by Isaac Stern. David Hermann’s clean and relatively noise-free transfers for Biddulph preserve the core of Francescatti’s pure, sweet, and pleasantly edgy tone, placed in the foreground by Columbia’s original engineers—Columbia would later shed a similar bright spotlight on Isaac Stern; his tonal image not only appeared in the foreground but also seemed to be focused more sharply. Francescatti’s sunny Italianate violinistic personality suited the more relaxed songfulness of the Romances so well that it may be somewhat surprising that he didn’t re-record these pieces in stereo, as he would do the Violin Concerto, in 1961 with Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. That later recording of the Concerto drew favorable critical notice when it appeared (he certainly knew it well enough: at that time, he’d been playing the Concerto for almost 50 years!), but also some suggestion that he failed to probe far beneath the surface. Be that as it may, his earlier recording of Beethoven’s Concerto, from November 5, 1950, offers more of the drama of those sonata performances in a driving, dramatically rhetorical reading, though it bears the unmistakable impress of Francescatti’s genial personality throughout the first movement (as in the later recording, he played Kreisler’s cadenzas for the first and third movements—here with amazing panache); and as in his readings of Saint-Saëns’s Third Concerto and Paganini’s Concerto, made on January 23 and 15, respectively that year, his approach remained essentially lyrical despite the heightened sense of drama.
Francescatti soars in the Concerto’s slow movement to heights far exceeding those he reached in the Romances two years later, and in the middle section he sings with moving ardor, though the recorded sound occasionally seems gritty.
Zino Francescatti’s recording career may have suffered by comparison with Isaac Stern’s, but Stern, closer to the age of Leonard Bernstein, with whom he recorded so frequently, belonged to a later generation; and Francescatti, after all, had almost reached his mid-fifties at the time (nevertheless, Heifetz had, too, and nobody challenged his hegemony at RCA, where he’d been dubbed the violinist of the century). But Francescatti certainly deserved inclusion in the list of five best violinists published in
on February 2, 1962 (in alphabetical order, Francescatti, Heifetz, Milstein, Oistrakh, and Stern—Bruno Monsaingeon would later include Stern but place Francescatti more tentatively on the group’s fringe). Like the best violinists, he projected a strong individuality, one that could be recognized after only a few notes. And his recordings, displaying that personality to the fullest, deserve to be heard. That’s especially true of this one of Beethoven’s Concerto. Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 61 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Zino Francescatti (Violin)
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 04/23/1952
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