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Heifetz-Piatigorsky Concerts - The Art of Jascha Heifetz: Volume 19
César FRANCK (1822 - 1890)
Piano Quintet in f (1879) [30.45]
with Leonard Pennario, piano; Israel Baker, violin; William Primrose, viola.
Recorded 22 August 1961 ADD
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)
Piano Quintet in A (1873) [28.49]
with Jacob Lateiner, piano; Israel Baker, violin; Joseph de Pasquale, viola.
Recorded 10 November 1964 ADD
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912 - 1997)
String Trio in C (1933) [10.32]
with Joseph de Pasquale, viola.
Recorded 11 November 1964 ADD
all with Jascha Heifetz, violin, and Gregor Piatigorsky, cello. Recorded RCA Studios, Hollywood, California, USA
Notes in Japanese only. Also available in a US issue, 74321-90965-2 BMG RCA BVCC 37125 (Japan) [70.12]

Comparison recordings:
Franck: Curtis Qrt, Vladimir Sokoloff Westminster LP XWN 18577
Franck and Dvorák: Vienna Philh. Qrt, Clifford Curzon [ADD] Decca 421 153-2

Any recording of the Franck Quintet is welcome, especially one so well played and recorded as here. However this is not the best version ever done or even the best available. This work contains deep despair, lush sentiment, anger, mystery, fragile beauty, all of which are played by Heifetz with his usual slightly strident precision. Franck was deeply religious, had been rescued by his rich wife from a wretched existence with his family and held a respectable position which allowed him time to compose — and take a few students. Like many older professors, so the story goes, he fell madly in love with one of his students, and couldn’t do anything whatever about it, couldn’t speak to anyone about it but us, his musical audience. It has been said that a work of art is the successful resolution of inner conflict, and that is what we have in this magnificent and under-appreciated work. Heifetz and his Hollywood musical friends play it as though it were the sound track to “Spellbound — the Sequel” with Heifetz playing the part of the Theremin.

The Curzon recording, out of print but still to be found if you look far enough, is generally considered the best modern version. These musicians play the work as though it were a hypothetical Brahms Third Piano Concerto, an approach that reveals as much as it conceals. The best version ever done is the old Westminster monophonic LP, not only in performance, but the sound isn’t half bad, either. These musicians were flexible enough to respond to the work’s changing moods with authenticity as well as passion. Look for it to appear soon restored to CD; watch this space for details.

Dvorák’s chamber music can be facile and sentimental, even “pretty.” Two hearings and it’s already sounding trite. The Quintet is one of the exceptions, perhaps his chamber masterpiece, full of great musical ideas that come and go rapidly. It’s been nearly three generations and hopefully everyone has forgotten the awful pop song based on the opening of the second movement. Has the argument over the first movement opening theme — is it an American or Czech folksong? — ever has been settled? Here Heifetz’s coolness is a positive force keeping the performance respectable. This is one of the best versions of this work ever.

That being said, compared to the great Willi Boskovsky, Heifetz was a scraper, and the Viennese get a genuine middle European swing to this music. The colour and drama in their playing are ever a delight and easily overcome any tendency to triteness or over familiarity. This is the great performance of this work that can make you love it no matter how many times you’ve heard it.

A recording of anything by Françaix is good news and Heifetz, et al., play the sarcasm with just the right degree of irony and volatility. Are they tuning up before the fourth movement, or is that in the score? Maybe the engineer couldn’t tell; I’m not sure I can either. Even though this may be the most accessible Françaix of all, most people still won’t like this music, but for those of us who can really taste the satire and crisp wit, this is candy for the soul. This is the one truly great, irreplaceable performance on this disk. Check out:

Paul Shoemaker


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