Though indeed of Italian background, violinist Zino Francescatti was a Frenchman, born in Marseilles in 1902. His real name was René-Charles Francescatti. Both his parents played the violin, and his father René had been a student of Paganini. The younger Francescatti performed the Paganini Violin Concerto No. 1 at his official Paris debut in 1925.
By that time Francescatti was already an experienced performer. He gave his first concert at age 5 and played the Beethoven violin concerto at 10. From his late teens he concertized regularly, and after arriving in Paris in 1924 he formed a duo with none less than Maurice Ravel and embarked on an international tour. In the 1920s and 1930s Francescatti toured the globe, although his U.S. debut didn't come until 1939, once again with the Paganini Concerto No. 1, in a New York Philharmonic concert.
Despite his fondness for Paganini, Francescatti was more identified with elegant, natural-seeming playing than with sheer virtuoso fireworks. Later in life he toured and recorded with the similarly fluid French pianist Robert Casadesus in duo repertory; they recorded a complete set of Beethoven's violin and piano sonatas, lyrical works ideally suited to their combined styles. Living in New York but often returning to France to perform and teach, Francescatti made durable recordings of several major repertory works, including the Beethoven concerto with conductor Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Francescatti retired in 1976, moved back to France, and sold his prized Stradivarius instrument to Salvatore Accardo. In 1987 he used part of the proceeds to establish an educational foundation and a violin competition in the city of Aix-en-Provence.
Despite the deep-rooted European traditions exemplified in his playing, Francescatti's memory has not been particularly well served by reissue houses. An exception, however, is the Bridge release An Evening of Paganini (Great Performances from The Library of Congress, Vol. 17), which won a Best Recording of the Year award from Fanfare magazine. The disc presents a 1954 Paganini recital Francescatti gave with pianist Artur Balsam. The Zino Francescatti in Performance two-disc set released by the Music & Arts label offers Francescatti concerto performances from the 1940s and 1950s with various orchestras. Some of his original concerto recordings on the Columbia label have been reissued as part of the Sony Masterworks Heritage series.