Zino Francescatti - a re-appreciation

Edited: May 30, 2018, 8:23 AM · Among the huge number of truly great violinists - living and gone - let us honor one of them once in a while. Zino Francescatti was unique in many ways: his personal history (at least in part, as possibly an "indirect" pupil of Paganini), his vibrato, his technique, his "heart," his stage presence, his interpretations, his personal charm and warmth, and his recorded legacy. Among my favorite performances, the Beethoven and Brahms Concertos (with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, 1950's). And Francescatti is instantly recognizable, one of those who cannot be mistaken for anyone else.

Replies (13)

Edited: May 30, 2018, 6:56 AM · Don't forget his legendary showpieces record. His Vieuxtemp 4 was (is) my reference. recording.

I love Francescatti. He had a bigger influence on how I approach the violin than any other famous soloist. Big, bold, and warm, but very sweet at the same time.

May 30, 2018, 7:09 AM · His mono recording of the Beethoven was one of my first LPs, bought in 1968, and I loved it. I bought a ticket to hear him perform the Brahms with the LSO in Bristol but unfortunately he must have been indisposed. His deputy was Tossy Spivakovsky - another who deserves to be better remembered?
May 30, 2018, 9:25 AM · Zino Francescatti is considered as one of representatives of French school, he also has Italian heritage. He was pupil of his father, and his father was pupil of Camillo Sivori, Genovese, pupil of Paganini. This virtuoso was one of dearest friends of Maestro Accardo (owns a Stradivari 1727 named "ex-Francescatti").

May 30, 2018, 9:30 AM · All of the above comments regarding Zino Francescatti relate to his recordings, most of which I have either owned or heard. In 1948/50 I was studying violin with Jascha Simkins, a pupil pf Franz Kneisel at the Institute of Musical Arts in downtown New York, later to become the Juilliard School of Music, and after that, The Juilliard School. Simkins was a member of the 1st violin section of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and during the years mentioned, my father provided me with a season ticket for the Philadelphia Orchestra, residing in the 'old' Academy of Music. In 1951 I entered the Juilliard School of Music and for 5 years attended most of the PO's series each season in Carnegie Hall. I have heard ALL of the performances live, and in Carnegie Hall, listed in prior comments, and I can tell you that the recordings give only a 'taste' of that artist's sound and power as a violinist, in the public forum. He played with a loosely tightened bow, and a wide vibrato, the combination of which projected totally over the orchestra to the last seat in the gallery where I sat for most of the concerts. Now, would you like to have similar descriptions of Isaac Stern, Nathan Milstein, or Erica Morini, also perennial favorites of Ormandy and the orchestra? They just don't come like that anymore. I was born in 1933, and there are very few of us around anymore!
May 30, 2018, 2:42 PM · Very cool. There are a few Kneisel pupils who went on to teach-- Joseph Fuchs being the first one that springs to mind. Did Simkins ever tell you any specifics about Kneisel's playing?
Edited: May 30, 2018, 5:49 PM · Francescatti has always been one of my favorite violinists. He had a beautiful sound that was unique. I loved his tone and wide vibrato. His sound inspired me. I agree that "[t]hey don't come like [him] anymore." His recordings of the Mendelssohn, Bruch, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev No. 2 concertos are truly remarkable. His recording of the Saint-Saens No. 3 is the best I ever heard (except for Milstein's recording which is stunning as well). His recording of the Chausson Poeme is gorgeous. I also love his Lalo Symphonie Espanole. His recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas with Robert Casadesus are a joy to listen to -- especially the Spring Sonata. His recordings of the Franck and Debussy Sonatas are elegant. His recording of Schubert's Grand Fantasy is a classic.

I also was present at Francescatti's last Saturday night concert with the NY Philharmonic in 1975 (when I was a young teenager), and he played the Saint-Saens No. 3 in a farewell performance.

I have never heard another violinist sound like him. He was one of the greatest violinists of his generation.

June 5, 2018, 6:04 AM · One of my favorites too! His recording of the Paganini D Major was the first time I heard the piece, and I still think it is about the best (though there are so many great ones).

Myron, I for one would love to hear in-person descriptions of any of the great violinists of that day! I was born to late to hear most of them in concert (believe the oldest great soloist I heard live was Zukerman).

Speaking of Zukerman, it was a great shock to me as a teenager when I heard him play Beethoven live with the local (Scranton) orchestra...I'd been listening to CDs of Stern and Heifetz from the 60s, real close-mic style of recording, and what the violin actually sounds like in a hall when you're in the back was quite a disappointment to me - I felt like I could barely hear him, but reviews of the concert I read the next day were ecstatic. Eventually I learned that the mic had been sitting on top of the soloist in the 60s records, and modern records sound somewhat more like the actual concert hall. This has led me to try to sit as close to the soloist as I can manage for later concerts, heh. Projection is hard, even if you're a world-class soloist on a Cremona. I tend to think symphonic forces are rather too large for a solo stringed instrument nowadays - I often prefer recordings made from more authentically-sized (smaller) orchestras for concerti.

June 5, 2018, 7:11 AM · Francis - it all depends on who is playing (and where).

I attended Heifetz playing the Beethoven concerto in 1950 and was amazed that the balance of soloist "vs" orchestra sound was just like in our 78rpm recordings at home.
I had to strain to hear Zukerman in a violin/piano recital in the 1960s.
I was amazed by the Brahms concerto as played by Eric Friedman in the 1970s - in that case his violin's sound was often submerged by the orchestra, but I felt the genius of Brahms's orchestration which allowed the violin overtones to emerge above the orchestra sound even when its core tones did not. By contrast, I heard Stern play the Brahms in the early 1960s and his sound dominated.
Both Perlman and Hahn can be heard over almost anything. When I saw Perlman play the Tchaikovsky the sound of his violin was even there above that of the orchestra at the very end of the finale. When Hahn played the Elgar her sound was always clear and powerful; in the duet part between soloist and the concertmaster I really felt sorry for the concertmaster whose sound was relatively so weak in comparison. But a month later I saw (then 18 year old) cellist Alicia Weilerstein with the same orchestra play the Dvorak cello concerto and during the violin/cello duet therein the same concertmaster's sound matched the soloist's very well.

It all depends, but you are right, many concerto recordings are not representative of concert sound.

June 5, 2018, 7:23 AM · Oh, wow, so Heifetz and Stern live with orchestra sounded like their recordings? That's amazing! Come to think of it, I have heard Hillary Hahn and Joshua Bell live playing romantic concerti, and I had no trouble hearing them, though it certainly wasn't the 1960s close mic sound, but totally clear. Maybe some of it is the power of the player/instrument combo, and some of it is what type of tone they are projection.
June 5, 2018, 3:49 PM · Not sure why Zukerman has met with problems with posters here-- I've heard him a number of times at Symphony Hall, in recital and with the BSO. His sound has always been enormous. Voice of God kind of enormous.
June 5, 2018, 6:56 PM · Mr. Zukerman's tone is huge-but there are plenty of variables, as in not having a seat that is "ideal" sonic-wise for the performance and/or hall acoustics.

I have heard many "top" violinists play that don't dominate the orchestra, including all the younger ones mentioned above. I am wary of making it new vs old school. Just a couple or so had "problems" playing loudly, and it may have been a combination of the venue and my seat's location. None play too timidly, though I admit some are more consistent than others in drawing a large tone at most performances I have been to.

(Hesitate to name names, as because of the aforementioned and other factors, I hate saying this or that violinist didn't "project well" or have a "small tone". Someone may read that and take it to heart. Really, most of these players have not much trouble projecting over an orchestra.)

June 8, 2018, 8:18 AM · I played with Zukerman a few years back, I think it was the Bruch concerto.
Sorry to say, I felt he kind of phoned it in.
June 8, 2018, 9:56 AM · If he feels anything like I do about the piece he'd have sent it by pigeon post. BUT in 1975 (I think) I heard him give an immense performance of the Elgar in London, so yes he always could project

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