Zino Francescatti plays Violin Concertos by Paganini and Brahms [Sargent in London; Paray in New York; Testament]

4 of 5 stars

Violin Concerto in D, Op.6
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77

Zino Francescatti (violin)

BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Malcolm Sargent [Paganini]

New York Philharmonic
Paul Paray

Paganini recorded on 8 September 1951 in Royal Albert Hall, London; Brahms on 6 April 1957 in Carnegie Hall, New York City

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: November 2017
Duration: 65 minutes



Although Marseille-born Zino Francescatti (1902-91, he was christened René-Charles) made commercial recordings of these Violin Concertos (Ormandy in both, Bernstein in the stereo remake of the Brahms), this Testament release documents the violinist caught ‘on the wing’.

For his only BBC Prom, Francescatti played Chausson’s Poème (not recorded) and Paganini (the latter’s orchestral introduction cut to shreds here, a quarter of the length that Monteux had provided in Paris for Menuhin some years previously) finds Malcolm Sargent an attentive if a rather sober accompanist, and if the BBCSO itself is distantly balanced and dynamically introverted, it matters not too much for this is Francescatti’s show – his playing quite brilliant, volatile and full of enticing bel canto lyricism, the first-movement cadenza notable for its pyrotechnics and wizardry (following which the orchestral coda is also bereft of some bars). The slow movement is hardly the marked Adagio, but Francescatti’s moving-along intensity brings it alive as an operatic aria, and the Finale is perfectly paced as a playful dance, with one of those tunes that tends to the ‘earworm’ category.

Six years later, from London to New York for Brahms’s Violin Concerto, the Philharmonic also a little far-away in Carnegie Hall, which is not to say that in either work the soloist is balanced closely. Paul Paray leads an imposing introduction, and if Francescatti’s first entrance shows his tone to be less glamorous than in Paganini, his sweetness of phrase and his technical athleticism stands him in good stead for some charismatic music-making that draws the listener in – of the moment and with much commitment – elegantly and vibrantly accompanied. Francescatti opts for the ‘standard’ Joachim cadenza, which he plays with fire and fantasy, and there is an affecting aftermath into the concluding measures. The slow movement is especially fine – I assume Harold Gomberg is the oboist – serene yet rising to emotional heights, and the Finale has spring and purpose.

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