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Zino Francescatti
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Concerto in D major Op. 61 (1806)
Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 in G Op. 40 (c.1802)
Romance for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 in F Op. 50 (c.1798)
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Jean Morel (Romances), recorded April 1952
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy, recorded November 1950
BIDDULPH 80205-2 [59.39]


For the second release since its recent welcome relaunch Biddulph has resurrected Francescatti’s earlier 1950 recording of the Beethoven and coupled it with the two almost contemporaneous Romances conducted by Jean Morel. In the Concerto he was partnered by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia, a relatively early mono LP and one generally eclipsed by the subsequent stereo remake with Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony in 1962. This was last issued coupled by Sony with the Sibelius Concerto.

Whether one admires more the Walter or Ormandy, Francescatti’s virtues remain consistent: elegance and patrician ease of execution, a notable sense of poise and command. Ormandy, a former violinist whose solo discs have been issued on Biddulph, moulds the opening with individual touches and Francescatti responds with crystalline purity. Parts of the first movement sound surprisingly slow and lyrical with moments of very slightly rhetorical phrasing – but a look at the timings shows that actually they steer a perfectly acceptable course between the volatile speed of, say, Heifetz, Huberman and Busch and the more measured generosity of Menuhin, Stern and Suk – to take six examples almost at random. The slow movement is suffused in sweet lyricism, with Francescatti varying the distribution of vibrato and bow weight appositely, his playing – supported well by Ormandy – full of affectionate generosity. The finale is light hearted and unaggressive, Ormandy not unleashing big tuttis and instead cushioning Francescatti with precise sensitivity. Sleeve-note writer and producer Eric Wen prefers this recording to the later stereo one. Both show sovereign instrumental and expressive control if not ultimately absolute penetration to the music’s core. The sweet geniality sometimes limits ambiguous exploration but no one could doubt the sophistication of the musicianship. The Romances are delectably spun.

The original recording of the Concerto was rather muddy with occasional muffled middle frequencies but Francescatti’s tone emerges well and unhindered and the transfer does justice to it. As with the Szigeti release no original recording details are given, just dates, which I think is a mistake but otherwise Francescatti’s many admirers will want to acquaint themselves with a recording that has rather slipped the net over the years.

Jonathan Woolf



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