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Zino Francescatti (violin)
Henry VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Violin Concerto No 4 in D minor, Op 31 (1849-50) [28:46]
…douard LALO (1823–1892)
Symphonie espagnole (1875) [26:54]
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Havanaise, Op 83 (1887) [9:42]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen (1878) [9:39]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Vieuxtemps)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos (Lalo)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/William Smith (Saint-SaŽns, Sarasate)
rec. 1957, no locations specified
BIDDULPH 85001-2 [75:00]

Biddulph surveys Zino Francescatti in 1957. The first recording is the famous Vieuxtemps Fourth Concerto, made with Eugene Ormandy in Philadelphia. Eight days later the Frenchman was in New York recording Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with Dimitri Mitropoulos. In November Columbia paired him with William Smith and the Columbia Symphony - another name for the Philadelphians: Smith was Ormandy's assistant conductor at the time - in two mid-sized staples by Saint-SaŽns and Sarasate.

I reviewed the Vieuxtemps about a decade ago when it appeared on Music & Arts in a Francescatti triple-CD selection. Only a daring cadre of violinists then essayed this work and, though Grumiaux and Perlman were later to do so, the earlier field was taken by Menuhin, Francescatti and the titan-like figure of pre-war Heifetz. In that previous Francescatti review I wrote that ‘few have caught the elegant swagger of the finale better than he’ and that is just so, but his instinct for bel canto cantilena is just as active and Ormandy, himself an ex-violinist, provides magisterial support. Only Heifetz could produce that hooded, cloaked tonal intensity in the slow movement but the Frenchman is brilliantly incisive in the Scherzo, full of his refined elegance and pinpoint accuracy. You’ll also find this recording in Sony’s Ormandy ‘Columbia Legacy’ mega-box.

Music and Arts released the Lalo in the 1946 Parisian 78rpm set directed by Andrť Cluytens, and Francescatti was much later to record it with Ormandy in stereo (thus it’s not in the Ormandy Sony box cited). Biddulph sensibly opts for the mid-period Mitropoulos instead. Francescatti couldn’t have liked the Intermezzo because he only ever recorded the four-movement version, but his conception remained consistent over the decades, the tempo relationships within movements properly observed, and the music’s emotive temperature always precisely calibrated. He is always effortlessly elegant and vests the music with a national character. He is more accurate and controlled, though less piquant and colourful, than his contemporary Henry Merckel (see review) who, in 1932, was the first performer to record the work intact as a five-movement structure. In all honesty Francescatti is not as moving in the Andante as Merckel and you might also note that Francescatti employs, for him, an unusual number of slides in the Rondo finale.

The two smaller works show him in the best possible light. In the Havanaise his vibrato is perfectly calibrated – it’s never too heavy - and his phrasing is never brusque. His playing glints with grace. He had recorded a snippet from Zigeunerweisen in the first recordings he made, an acoustic tranche for French HMV in Marseilles in 1922, as his reminiscences, quoted in a previous Biddulph CD, made clear. He returned to it electrically in 1930 but this 1957 recording is Francescatti at his effortless peak, dashing but not swashbuckling.

I’ve been considering the Francescatti situation for some time. Sony has released his set of the Beethoven Violin Sonatas with Casadesus and there are a number of discs, such as this Biddulph release, that give us overlooked examples from his discography. A massive 68-CD Mitropoulos box is promised next year which should include the Lalo. But with a bit of imagination and joined-up thinking – the majority of his recordings were made for Columbia – there is surely place, and demand, for a Francescatti box. Which is no negative reflection on this excellently transferred and presented Biddulph disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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