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Zino Francescatti Plays Encores
Zino Francescatti (violin)
Artur Balsam (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy (Saint-Saëns)
rec. 1947 (Ravel), 1950 (Saint-Saëns), 1954 (Paganini) and 1951 (remainder)
BIDDULPH 802242 [72:27]

Biddulph is in the process of reissuing selected recordings from their catalogue, and the latest batch includes this delightful disc of virtuoso and encore pieces which Zino Francescatti set down between 1947-1954, a time when he was at his peak. Their artwork has had a makeover, with a photograph of the artist now adorning the front cover.

Francescatti’s early studies were unusual in that he was taught exclusively by his parents. He could claim a notable pedigree; his father was a student of Camillo Sivori, who was a pupil of Niccolò Paganini, the only one it’s said. If ever there a violinist who could seduce the listener with the radiance and lustre of his playing, it’s Francescatti. When I listen to his recordings, his soft-grained sound emerges from the grooves with elegance, refinement and grace. His vibrato was wide and not very varied, and on the downside I find a certain uniformity in his tone production. This didn’t suit everything he played, but he was particular successful in the Classical and early Romantic repertoires. He possessed an effortless technique, and pursued an outstanding international career, retiring in 1976, before deterioration set in.

We kick off with the Vitali Chaconne in an arrangement by Leopold Charlier. The theme is bold, noble and majestic, and each variation becomes progressively more demanding. It’s the perfect vehicle to showcase Francescatti’s dazzling virtuosity. The Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani by Kreisler doesn’t work for me. The opening lacks care and conviction. With regard to expressive changes of position, unlike Heifetz and Kreisler his finger slides were rationed, but when present were applied tastefully. He tended to restrict them to bridging notes in position changes rather than to emphasize a climactic note at the end of a phrase. Where he is more liberal is in Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs. This is one of the finest versions I’ve heard, delivered with eloquent bel canto and infused with tenderness. The violinist is firmly in his comfort zone in Paganini’s Variations on ‘Carnival of Venice’. He summons all his violinistic resources in a performance of virtuosic brilliance. It’s all there. Crisp spiccatos, cracking left-hand pizzicatos, ricochet bowing, luminous harmonics, rich, vibrant G string bowing and pristine double-stops are all dispatched with unruffled ease. The Kreisler arrangement of Londonderry Air is heartfelt, touching and lovingly rendered. Ravel’s Tzigane, the earliest recording here, is in dated sound, and certainly not short on gypsy swagger. It’s as spicy and colourful a reading as your ever likely to encounter. Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso is the only work here accompanied by orchestra, with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy providing enthusiastic support. The ‘sameness’ quality I mentioned regarding Francescatti's sound is all too evident here. Compare it with any of the Heifetz versions and, though technically accomplished, it sounds monochrome.

Throughout, Artur Balsam, a wonderful pianist, responds sensitively and provides able support. Sound quality, apart from the Ravel Tzigane, is excellent. Booklet notes are provided by Eric Wen.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf
Complete contents:

Tomaso VITALI(1663-1745)

Chaconne in G minor arranged Leopold Charlier [9:05]
Fritz KREISLER(1875-1962)
Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani [4:50]
Grave in the style of W.F.Bach [4:19]
Minuet in the style of Porpora [2:50]
Allegretto in the style of Boccherini [2:16]
Jules MASSENET(1842-1912)
Thaïs – Méditation (1894) [4:50]
Emmanuel CHABRIER(1841-1894)
Marche joyeuse (1888) arranged Samuel Dushkin [3:56]
Francis POULENC(1899-1963)
Presto for piano in B flat major arranged Jascha Heifetz [1:37]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS(1887-1959)
O canto do cysne negro [2:33] ) Pietro Della Valle (1586–1652)
Ao pé da Foqueira (Preludio XV) [1:23]
Londonderry Air arranged Fritz Kreisler [4:56]
Niccolò PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Variations on ‘Carnival of Venice’ Op.10 (1829) [12:03]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS(1835-1921)
Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (1863) [8:46]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Tzigane (1924) [8:23]


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