Notes and Editorial Reviews
Violin Sonata No. 3.
Solo Violin Partita No. 1.
Solo Violin Sonata.
Introduction et Rondo capriccioso.
Zino Francescatti (vn); Eugenio Bagnoli (pn)
ORFEO 711 081, mono (79:23) Live: Salzburg 8/25/1958
Gottfried Kraus’s notes to Orfeo’s release cite critics from the time of Zino Francescatti’s only recital at the Salzburg Festival roundly condemning his choice of program, suggesting that he almost insulted these most worthy listeners by playing Brahms, Ben-Haim, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Chopin, and Sarasate. It would be interesting to hear what academico-philosophical program they felt the Festival should have imposed on Francescatti (Otto Sertl of the
explicitly suggested that the Festival should have offered its soloists such “advice”).
Francescatti and Bagnoli offered their audience a warm-toned, singing, and hardly heavy-handed performance of Brahms’s Third Sonata. Francescatti employed highly personal, though never extravagant, portamentos in the Sonata’s first movement; his tone grew throaty, burnished to a ruddy glow in the bottom lower registers in the second movement, and remained so even in the third, during which his level of intensity seemed to rise—and in the fourth. The engineers placed Francescatti slightly in the foreground, so it takes careful listening to prevent the partnership with Bagnoli from seeming a bit unbalanced. The Library of Congress released another live performance of Brahms’s Third Sonata from 1949 with Robert Casadesus (CLC-3)—but the period’s less-detailed recorded sound somewhat occludes the generally more vibrant performance.
Though Francescatti revered Bach and, like Casals, devoted a period to the composer each day, he recorded only the second and third of the solo partitas and none of the sonatas. Orfeo’s recording of the First Partita, live, came just before a performance from September 9 of the same year that’s been available on Biddulph ZF1 (the reading on Orfeo seems a bit more magisterial and enjoys better recorded sound). It offers an opportunity to hear the way Francescatti played Bach: with sharp and clear articulation, even in tempos like that of the Courante’s Presto Double (the engineers have combined the tracks of the movements’ doubles with those of the dances proper). His sound flashes (and so do the double-stops of the
Tempo di bourée
) with brilliant highlights, though he never seems to have strained to create this effect. This performance approaches Nathan Milstein’s in personalization, though it’s a bit less mannered overall (lying in that respect between Milstein’s earlier and later versions).
Paul Ben-Haim’s idiomatic Solo Violin Sonata, as the Viennese Heinrich Neumayer remarked, might have been made for Francescatti—or, at least, he played it that way. It’s not really a brief work, lasting more than 12 minutes—and, bristling with difficulties, it’s hardly an easy effort for the player—or an entirely uncomplicated one for the listener, though its three movements don’t revel in dissonance as does Bartók’s (as in that Sonata, the violin is muted for the slow movement). It doesn’t slink chromatically, as did Ysaÿe’s works, perhaps to compensate for the instrument’s inherent lack of harmonic possibilities. The finale has something of the character of a perpetual motion, similar in some respects to the second movement of Gustave Samazeuihl’s
Lamento et Moto perpetuo
, which Francescatti also championed.
Modern audiences may be far removed from the time when Saint-Saëns’s
Introduction and Rondo capriccioso
served as a recital number with piano. And, in fact, some of the showpiece’s tangy flavor seems lost in the translation (like watching old black-and-white movies in colorized versions). In this case, however, Francescatti is so arch and witty that even the least sympathetic accompaniment could hardly dispel the ambiance he creates. Heifetz may have played this work with incomparable zest, but Francescatti imparts to it a clarity (which his pianist perhaps couldn’t share because of his instrument’s nature) and charm that is surely also an essential part of the work’s musical makeup. Francescatti recorded this showpiece with orchestra twice in the studio, with Ormandy in 1950 (mono) and with Bernstein in 1964 (mono and stereo).
Francescatti recorded Ravel’s
no fewer than four times in the studio, in 1931, 1947, and 1955 with piano, and in 1964 with Bernstein. His reading sounds very distant from Heifetz’s or Kogan’s exotic fire or Oistrakh’s full-throated solidity. But Ravel apparently preferred his Gypsy pastiche played this way—Gallic rather than Magyar, though Francescatti strikes plenty of sparks in both the cadenza and in the ensuing dance.
Orfeo has included the audience’s applause—and also two encores in what the critics disparaged as the old manner: a sinuous reading of a Chopin Mazurka and a sparkling—though perhaps not propulsive—one of Sarasate’s Zapateado (neither of which Francescatti recorded elsewhere). Francescatti’s admirers should be most grateful for this opportunity to hear him “live” in recorded sound that favors his tonal purity and strength. And as we should all be Francescatti’s admirers, that urgent recommendation is a general one as well.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
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