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Zino Francescatti
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in E BWV1042
Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV1004
Partita No. 3 in E BWV1006
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell
Recorded 1950-53
BIDDULPH 80207-2 [62.16]

These recordings form the full extent of Francescatti’s Bach recordings for American Columbia and were made between 1950 and 1953. As ever with this elite player they are lyrically and technically impressive performances that employ the full armoury of romantic expression. In the Concerto he has the support of George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra with their strongly etched bass line and a rather distant harpsichord. There are one or two brief moments of unease from the soloist (listen from 3.10 onwards) but these are passing incidents and can’t impair his discreet but pervasive lyricism in the second movement. Here he proves a master of romantic cantilena leavened by aristocratic aloofness. The silvery elegance of the finale fuses with strongly graded dynamics - his attacks are softened by articulate discretion.

The Partita in E (No. 3) is unmannered and elegant, once again, though the Loure is decidedly slow. That Francescatti sustains it is a tribute to his powers of expressive elasticity but the most fascinating playing comes in the Minuet I where he makes the most of internal contrasts through subtle dialogue. In Minuet II he starts almost senza vibrato, contrasting this with his more opulent playing almost immediately, and his Gigue finale is attractive without quite seeming conclusive enough. The Partita No. 2 in D sees him using meatier vibrato in the Allemande opening movement whereas the Sarabande is heroically sustained and intense. He prepares for the Chaconne by ending the preceding Gigue on a long held note, intensely vibrated. As for the Chaconne it is enlivened by strong sforzati and Francescatti’s singing tonal qualities. Though he takes a good tempo the playing is violinistic and not intellectual, with the result that unlike, say, Grumiaux or Szigeti, the rise and fall of the argument doesn’t always develop with inexorable logic; sometimes things tend to be paragraphal and the solutions tend to be tangential. There are a few imperfections but the recording is close and one can hear the strenuous bowing demands placed upon the player. There’s also a horrible edit on the original master at 4.30, which Biddulph could do nothing about.

Francescatti re-recorded the Concerto in 1971 (with No. 1 in A) with Baumgartner and the Lucerne Festival Strings but these were the only commercial recordings of the two Partitas- though he had recorded the Preludio of the Partita in E back in 1946. The recordings sound well, inherent master problems notwithstanding, and Francescatti’s admirers will welcome this rare-ish example of his Bach on record.

Jonathan Woolf


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