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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor: Op. 64 (1844) [24:27]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Violin Concerto in D major: Op. 35 (1878) [32:54]
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Cleveland Orchestra/George Szell (Mendelssohn)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Schippers (Tchaikovsky)
rec. 1 December 1961 (Mendelssohn), Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio, 2 February 1965 (Tchaikovsky), Manhattan Center, New York
SONY CLASSICAL 82876 78760 2 [57:21]

 

Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) was one of the finest violinists of his generation. Despite his Italianate name, he was a Frenchman, born in Marseille, and from 1976 he retired to the south of France. He first made his mark as a child virtuoso, when at the age of only ten he performed the Beethoven concerto. In his early twenties he toured with Maurice Ravel, and this helped raise his profile internationally. He remained a significant figure in Europe and the United States for some fifty years.

Francescatti was particularly associated with the great concerto repertory, and this coupling of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky finds him at the height of his considerable powers. Some commentators have felt that his tone tended to be thinner rather than full, but that may have resulted from recorded sound, and these remasterings make his tone more flattering and rounded. As such he can be heard to best advantage, even if the sound is not as sophisticated as that of the latest recording technology, in terms of its depth of perspective, for example.

The Tchaikovsky performance carries much conviction, with a personal response to phrasing, rubato and tempi. Since his tempo is on the broad side in the opening movement, Francescatti is able to intensify the delivery in the coda and the effect is most dramatic. The central movement is beautifully phrased, and though the recording does not allow a gentle pianissimo, the artistry is such that sentiment never quite becomes sentimentality. The finale is exciting, and all praise here to the New York Philharmonic and Thomas Schippers for their unanimity of ensemble as the music sweeps forward. The coda moves the tempo up to Allegro vivacissimo, and at this point the response of Francescatti’s virtuosity is uncompromising: a matter of who dares wins, as it were.

The Mendelssohn concerto is one of that composer’s finest inspirations, and it is a work in which the violinist sets the tone of the performance from the very beginning. Thus Francescatti makes his mark immediately and soon his rapport with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra becomes evident as something rather special. As so often, the recorded balance tends to favour the soloist, but with Francescatti in sparkling form there is little cause for complaint, other than the loss of a few orchestral touches of detail, among the woodwinds for example. The transition into the central slow movement is expertly handled by Szell, and the beautifully judged flowing tempo seems perfect for this eloquent music. The finale, on the other hand, has enormous vitality, as this exciting interpretation sweeps all before it.

Terry Barfoot

 



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