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Music: When Stars Play Together

3 minute read

For sheer size and weight, no other musical” marathon can touch the Edinburgh Festival. Last week Scotland’s grimy, granite capital was midway through its annual three-week encirclement of culture, with more performers scheduled than one conductor could shake a stick at: five symphony orchestras (from Berlin, London, Scotland, Wales and New York City), two choirs, eight chamber ensembles, 15 name soloists, and an opera company (Glyndebourne). At a concert by the leaderless Italian ensemble called l Musici, one wag cracked: “Look, they’ve run out of conductors.”

In all this sonorous wealth, there was only one attraction that had never been heard before, and might never be heard again. Three standout soloists—Britain’s Pianist Solomon, 53, France’s Violinist Zino Francescatti, 50, and Cellist Pierre Fournier, 49—subdued their virtuoso temperaments and got together as a chamber trio. Canny Festival Director Ian Hunter, who booked his stars 18 months back, explained: “It’s always risky, trying something like this. But bringing three great soloists together gives you the extra mileage of getting them to play solos and duets as well.”

In Rapport. It gave the soloists extra mileage, too. Four weeks ago Francescatti flew from the U.S. and Fournier from a tour of South America to join Solomon in his London home. For six hours a day they rehearsed, basking in a peculiar camaraderie that goes with such intimate cooperation. Between sessions, they sat over long lunches, absorbing each others’ musical personalities and personal musings, e.g., Francescatti and Solomon have the same birthday, the same weakness for playing the horses (they placed three joint bets, won twice). The men hit it off, as the sunny-tempered Francescatti puts it, “like a coup de foudre” (literally thunderclap, colloquially, love at first sight).

After 100 hours of rehearsing together, the three shirtsleeved men were still at it last week, this time in a high-ceilinged Edinburgh drawing room. From time to time the two bow-wielding Frenchmen exchanged swift, smiling glances that showed, explained Pianist Solomon, “the intense satisfaction of finding that you’ve remembered a little nuance you’ve agreed on ten days before—a bit of phrasing, a forte or a pianissimo or a little rubato.”

Out of Conjunction. The concerts in cavernous (capacity: 3,000) Usher Hall faced two problems: the auditorium, which was likely to swallow up the delicate murmurs of chamber music in its vastness, and the piano-trio form, in which the piano can easily overpower the other instruments. Nevertheless, the trio soared over all obstacles. The music spanned Beethoven’s first published work, the Trio in E-flat, Brahms’s late Trio in C Minor, and a splendid performance of Beethoven’s rarely heard Triple Concerto (with the Scottish National Orchestra under Karl Rankl). The trio got the festival’s best reviews so far. Wrote the Manchester Guardian: “These performers, against all the odds, gave a performance—or rather three performances—that held the whole audience, from expectant novice to unexpectant critic, completely beguiled.”

When their song was over, the three stars reluctantly moved out of conjunction. Fournier will fly to Switzerland, then on to a Scandinavian tour; Solomon heads for performances in South Africa, Israel and the Continent, Francescatti for a four-month rest in the Berkshires. Could they ever get together again? Possibly their schedules will permit it by 1957.

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