Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Nicolo PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Concerto in D major Op. 6 (? 1817)
Variations on The Carnival of Venice Op. 10 (1829)
Caprices Op. 1 (1801-07): Nos. 9, 13, 15, 17, 21, 20, 24 arr. Zino Francescatti or Mario Pilati
I Palpiti Op. 13
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano)
Recorded live at The Library of Congress, 1954
BRIDGE 9125 [67.38]

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The latest release in Bridge’s archive material of live concerts from The Library of Congress brings to the fore Zino Francescatti in a recital dating from 1954. He was teamed with Artur Balsam, born in 1906, and four years younger than his violinist partner. Balsam has already made several appearances in this series as either sonata partner of Nathan Milstein or alongside the Budapest Quartet. Francescatti was fifty-two and at the height of his fame. Though he was a contemporary of Heifetz – actually a year younger – Francescatti has always seemed very much younger and the reason seems to have been the telescoping of his international career. Heifetz sprang to fame as a teenager but it took the Frenchman much longer to establish his career - by which time Heifetz had enjoyed comfortable celebrity for over two decades. Though Francescatti made recordings in 1921 (last available on Biddulph) he wasn’t to tour America until 1939, having previously confined himself to a European career. It wasn’t until the War’s end that his career really took off.

He had studied with his father, an Italian violinist who had himself studied with Camillo Sivori, reputedly Paganini’s only pupil. Francescatti had a considerable affinity with Paganini and in 1947 recorded eight of the Caprices for Columbia (Nos 9, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22) with Balsam in the then fashionably spurious piano accompanied versions, in arrangements by Mario Pilati. I Palpiti was committed to disc, again with Balsam, two years later. The Carnival of Venice variations, similarly with Balsam, were recorded in April 1954 in a limited edition for Columbia (PE 19) though I’m not sure how much publicity this received. Unusually Bridge doesn’t date this Library of Congress recital – all of their other recitals are precisely dated – but it must have been quite near the Columbia recording date, which was April 30th 1954. As for the Concerto, Francescatti’s recording with the Philadelphia and Ormandy was a much-admired traversal, dating from January 1950 (sleeve-note writer Eric Wen in his otherwise excellent notes is mistaken in ascribing the accompaniment to Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic).

The recital highlights all Francescatti’s greatest qualities; technically magnificent, tonally expressive, lyric and with exceptional elegance. He possessed a very fast vibrato and one - as has been often noted – of some considerable oscillation (though not at all analogous to, say, Ruggiero Ricci’s or to the older generation of French violinists whose employment of finger tip vibrato led to nanny goat tonal production. Renée Chemet, born only fourteen years before Francescatti, is the most obvious example). So whilst this recital is ancillary to Francescatti’s commercial discography it is still tremendously exciting to hear the piano-accompanied Concerto and the 17th Caprice (otherwise unrecorded by him). He starts the Concerto a little slowly but we can hear some fabulous electric trills, harmonics superbly in tune – Francescatti’s intonation was invariably dead centre – and his unflappable concentration in the face of an off-stage crash. His fast vibrato is powerfully suited to the work and his flying staccatos are thrown off with devilish precision. He is elegant in the Carnival of Venice but also full of flair and drive. The pizzicati episode might turn many a violinist green with envy, even now. The Caprices differ from the commercially recognised performances inasmuch as Francescatti uses his own arrangements for Nos. 13, 17 and 24 – and these are all ringing and characterful performances, bringing out the lyric possibilities of the individual pieces. No. 15 is especially successful in its terpsichorean panache and he drives No. 21, the A major, to a drama fuelled conclusion. His bowing in No. 9 is remarkable and the only slight disappointment his own rather pat ending to No. 24. I Palpiti is similarly negotiated with the utmost in lyric panache. As ever with Francescatti, beauty of tone is never lost, no matter how perilous the demands placed upon him.

Fiddle fanciers won’t hesitate; those who know Francescatti’s Concerto with Ormandy may not have the 1947 Caprices. But there isn’t a huge amount of live Francescatti around and as far as I’m concerned you can never have too much of a good thing.

Jonathan Woolf    

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