Biddulph 80205-2, 59:37 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
More of the elegant Hart Stradivarius as played by its eminent owner Zino Francescatti (1902-1991) in recordings 1950-1952. Elegance and exalted lyricism were hallmarks of Francescatti’s expressive style. He would not be classified as an intellectual violinist in the same league as Joseph Szigeti or Franco Gulli, but an intuitive artist of the school of Ysaye and Kriesler. Kreisler, in fact, deemed Francescatti his favorite among his younger colleagues, and the collaboration Francescatti enjoyed with Artur Balsam in their rendition of Kreisler favorites on CBS (ML 5255) was a treasure in my old LP library.
The two Beethoven Romances date from 1952, and they both display Francescatti’s application of the bel canto style to the instrumental medium. His tone simply sails over the orchestra, particularly in the “sempre perdindosi” sections and the legato scale passages of the Violin Concerto. Ordinarily, I would be cool to any account of a major repertory item as led by Eugene Ormandy (1899-1995), a former violinist (nee Jeno Blau) turned conductor. Ormandy, somewhat like Heifetz, prided himself on the exact replication of any piece he conducted, with exactly the same affective life. So his Brahms Fourth from 1940 would not differ significantly from his interpretation from 1980. Happily, Ormandy appears in a sanguine mood for the Beethoven Concerto, underlining Francescatti’s application of scales and half-steps with urgency and attention to vertical detail. The Philadelphia string line luxuriates in its long lines, the winds in sparkling form. Francescatti plays the Kreisler cadenzas. The G Major theme and variations resonates with Francescatti’s piercing tone and intonation, a beguiling moment in time. Few play the rondo so suavely as Francescatti: he makes the figures almost too glib, a finger exercise in bow pressure and lightning alternation of arco, pizzicato, and staccato passages. But the melodic episodes float into outer space, or inner space if you’re the connoisseur of this master as I have remained over the years.