With Robert Casadesus, piano (Beethoven Op. 30, No. 2)/ Eugenio Bagnoli, piano/ Paris Conservatory Orchestra/ Andre Cluytens (Mozart, Beethoven)/ ORTF Orchestra, Lausanne/ Erich Leinsdorf (Brahms)/ ORTF Orchestra/ Paul Kletzki (Tchaikovsky)/ ORTF Orchestra/ Antal Dorati (Mendelssohn)
Music&Arts CD-1171, 4 mono CDs, 68:10; 72:55; 76:25; 76:23 (Distrib. Albany) ****:
Given the breadth of these in-concert inscriptions of French violinist Zino Francescatti (1902-1991), we have an embarrassment of riches, and it is difficult to know what to recommend first. Since I first saw Francescatti perform the Brahms Violin Concerto with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (c. 1961), it seems appropriate to travel to Lausanne 23 May 1969 and audition the Brahms with Leinsdorf conducting. All the Francescatti traits are in glorious evidence, especially the sweet, rounded tone and the strong flexibility of line. Some sonic clutter and acoustic noise is present, but they will not interfere with the monolithic doings on stage. The constantly moving, singing expressiveness, along with the firm, assertive musical stance; these imbue the Brahms with a fertile projection, both lyrical and massive at once. The inexorable sense of propulsion, linear yet so different from Heifetz’ emotional economy, rushes into the gypsy Rondo at the finale–and this already after hearty applause pursuant to the first movement–and each, new entry results in added intensity and deeper digging into the strings. The whirlwind leads directly into reverential eruptions from the audience.
The happy recording history of Francescatti with Greek conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, their suave renditions of the Saint-Saens B Minor and Tchaikovsky D Major concertos, has already found its way to Sony reissues. Here, the Tchaikovsky (5 May 1970) is led by the gifted Paul Kletzki (1900-1973), noted for his abilities in Mahler, Beethoven, and Sibelius. Riding the same high tension Francescatti forged with Mitropoulos (ML 4965), the Tchaikovsky enjoys both the lyrical melos and vivid, earthy string projection Francescatti could display as well in Paganini. Expressive finger slides and position shifts are evident, but Francescatti applies them judiciously. The cadenza is hot-blooded, gypsy style, a touch of Hubermann. Double stops then glissando to flute tone. Harmonics, double stops, high trill and pizzicato. That the audience could have sat in one place through this eludes me. Oboe, flute, clarinet, and solo violin make their points in the Canzonetta, whose tender delicacy set the example for Itzhak Perlman’s own conception. Nice work from the horn, whose punctuations at cadences is often swallowed up on disc. Echos of the ballet as we transition to the Finale which, albeit cutting repeats, rasps the material with pungent, crisp attacks and motional ferocity. The sweet, earthy, slightly voluptuous violin intones before the Russian dance, fiery spiccato included, spins again into musical nirvana, the audience tumbling after.
We have only one Paganini entry–always significant because Francescatti inherited the tradition through his father’s teacher, Sivori–the highly edited I Palpiti Variations, Op. 13, which Francescatti and Bagnoli did record commercially for CBS. This reading from 9 May 1961 has excellent acoustics, the violin forward at the microphone. The arioso character of the playing, given Bagnoli’s light hand at the keyboard, makes it a natural for the violin-guitar arrangement the composer used. All the Paganini pyrotechnics are in evidence, even trills in harmonics. Wicked slides and double stops, ponticello effects, the whole Paganini arsenal – spectacular! The Saint-Saens (9 September 1958) elicits the smooth gloss, the debonair character of the boulevardier which typically define Saint-Saens. We can hear Tunisian drums in the piano part. Some pitch variation makes for some unsteady sound levels. From the same Besancon venue comes the unaccompanied Bach B Minor Partita in good sound, and it adds to the relatively sparse Bach legacy with Francescatti. A solid sense of style, excellent pulse and ornamentation in the individual movements, and some sterling rapid bowing in the Double: Presto.
The Beethoven Concerto with Andre Cluytens (13 November 1946), from the same concert which features the Mozart G Major, has already appeared on CD courtesy of Jacob Harnoy’s Doremi label (DHR-7812), there coupled with his second commercial record of Ravel’s Tzigane with Balsam, 1947. Cluytens and the Paris Conservatory provide ample, energized accompaniment for Francescatti’s suave Mozart, more buoyant and propulsive –and no less sweet–than his commercial recording with an aged Bruno Walter. The sound is a bit flabby in the Adagio, but the violin sings exquisitely. Francescatti had a long association with Beethoven’s Concerto, having made his Paris debut in the work he called “the encyclopedia of the soul” in 1925.
While perhaps not so ruminative as the Oistrakh collaboration with Cluytens several years later, the Beethoven conveys a sophisticate’s cultivation of the repeated passages and a long line. The two Romances with pianist Bagnoli from 1961 enjoy the same fluidity and classical temper as his commercial inscription with Morel for CBS in 1952. Francescatti made a record of Ravel’s wild Tzigane in 1931 with Maurice Faure. But he had already played it on a tour with the composer at the keyboard in 1926. The Mandelssohn Concerto with Antal Dorati (3 June 1972) has verve and poignancy, although I still favor his feverish rendition with Dimitri Mitropolous (ML 4965). I will grant a full-bodied tonal palette to this Dorati collaboration, and the first movement has drive and intensity. Francescatti’s perfumed elegance, the lyric tone of his Hart Stradivarius, may prove rather ripe for some tastes; but like a select few violinists – Milstein and Kogan especially – I find in Zino Francescatti an artist of integrity and musical virtuosity who consistently elevates the music he performs.