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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major Op. 61 (1806) [45:02]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 4 (1934) [32:21]
Zino Francescatti (violin)
National Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven), BBC Symphony Orchestra (VW)/Antal Doráti
rec. April 1972 Lincoln Center, NYC (Beethoven), May 1965, Lincoln Auditorium, Syracuse, NYC (VW)

The Vaughan Williams has previously been released by this label but the current disc is now differently coupled (see review). Gone, therefore, is a triptych of Mozart works and Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus overture, and in their place one finds Francescatti’s performance of Beethoven’s Concerto.

I invariably respond the same way to Francescatti’s Beethoven which is to admire his refined elegance and purity, his empyrean phrasing and the all-round wholeness of his conception. It’s not thought-provoking in the sense that Huberman is or intense as Heifetz, and of volatility there is little sign. When I reviewed one of his commercial recordings (see review) – he made two, one with Ormandy and Philadelphia in 1950, the other with Bruno Walter in 1961 – I noted the perfect calibration of his vibrato usage and his essentially lyric approach to the work. If it lacks the intellectual rigour or spiritual dimension that other performers have found in it, it lacks for nothing in terms of affection and Francescatti always managed the remarkable feat of justifying a somewhat leisurely approach to the opening movement through the employment of canny rhythmic control. Nevertheless, I have invariably found that, for me, he lacks tension in this concerto. Doráti is a most accommodating accompanist, drawing out the wind playing well, though inclined to hammer out the final orchestral chords.

Tension is hardly absent in Doráti’s coruscating performance of VW’s Fourth Symphony given in Lincoln Auditorium, Syracuse, NYC with the visiting BBC Symphony. There is an unrelenting grip here that marks this out as a particularly impressive document. All sections of the orchestra are on auspicious form and the recorded sound ensures that detail is always audible. Of British conductors at the time, it wasn’t Boult or Barbirolli who best represented this symphony, it was Malcolm Sargent. In fact, Sargent had conducted the work with this orchestra two years earlier, and his reading is preserved on a BBC Legends CD. It’s even faster than Doráti and shows that this orchestra, which had premičred the work on disc in 1937 with the composer conducting, was still powerfully associated with it in readings of high drama such as this. The very best performances – VW’s own, Mitropoulos’ blistering reading, Sargent live in 1963, Berglund in Bournemouth – all have their very own special character. Doráti is almost good enough to join them.

Jonathan Woolf

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