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Zino Francescatti
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No.7 in C minor Op.30 No.2 (1802)
Violin Sonata No.8 in G Op.30 No.3 (1802)
Violin Sonata No.9 in A Op.47 Kreutzer (1803)
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Robert Casadesus (piano)
Recorded 1949 (Kreutzer) and 1953 (remainder)
BIDDULPH 80210-2 [72.58]

Biddulph continues its excellent job of Francescatti reclamation. These three sonata recordings pre-date the well-known LP cycle made by the two Frenchmen and are instead from earlier in the LP age – in fact the Kreutzer was simultaneously one of the first LPs and one of the last of American Columbia’s 78s. They are full of the violinist’s suavity and impeccable technical address, combined with a sweet and ravishingly multi-dimensional tone. His duo with Casadesus is formidable and was of some standing when they came to record the Kreutzer in 1949 and two of Op.30 in 1953.

One of the first warnings I should make is that Columbia’s balance is, improbably for a duo of this kind, heavily weighted (in the case of the two Op.30 sonatas) very much in favour of the pianist. His left hand broadsides are strong enough to sink a pocket battleship. Also the recording is bass heavy and boomy – play these two at a low-ish level or your relationship with your neighbours will plummet, as will your hearing. That said we have constant musical perception on offer and some of the violinist’s personalised traits. He is inclined to be somewhat tremulous in the C minor – doubtless for expressive reasons in this of all sonatas but even in the slow movement his vibrato can be rapid. The Scherzo doesn’t quite work in this performance mainly because of balance problems but there’s fine, crisp rhythm in the finale. The companion three movement Sonata in G opens in bubbly, affirmative style and if the Minuetto opens sounding rather fast (it’s marked ma molto moderato e grazioso after all) it soon settles down and is certainly elegant. There’s plenty of humour in the finale not least from the imperturbable Casadesus.

The earlier 1949 Kreutzer suffers attendant problems and should also be played at a low level – if you crank up the volume you hear a mush of what I take to be LP noise or residual noise from the 78 masters when they were used to transfer to LP. The piano also sounds tubby in the bass. But the balance between instruments is more just here and we open with the crystalline clarity of Francescatti’s opening statement and the fine duo playing of these two finished musicians. There’s a lot of inner detail audible in a performance of this kind, one that fuses Old World elegance (expressive portamenti, tonal shading) with New World precision and digital finesse. Francescatti employs one or two luscious portamenti in the variations second movement - unexpectedly as well, not quite where I thought he’d make them, which is as it should be – and never sounds too fast or superficial. I think however it is fair to say that, for all their elegance, culture and persuasiveness, this isn’t the most "inner" performance of the Kreutzer.

Still no original release details from Biddulph, though they’re much better now on exact recording dates. Neat typography need not invalidate this kind of essential detail. Eric Wen’s notes concentrate on the music much more than the performers even though the fiddler’s name dwarfs that of the composer on the booklet cover. These three recordings have been unavailable for decades; don’t confuse them with the later cycle. Even with the attendant aural problems they are very much worth hearing.

Jonathan Woolf


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