Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

ELGAR Violin Concerto
WALTON Violin Concerto
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
LSO/Malcolm Sargent (Elgar) rec 6 June 1949
Cincinnati SO/Eugene Goossens (Walton) rec 18 Feb 1941
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110939 Great Violinists [69.00]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS

The true revelation for me on this disc was Heifetz's performance of the Elgar. The Walton is superb, but one would expect that, as the work was written for him. On the other hand, Heifetz/Elgar does not seem an obvious combination of temperaments. But as I listened to this excellent transfer, I realised that I was hearing a great recorded performance. We are, perhaps, too inclined to regard the Menuhin/Elgar version as the ultimate touchstone. Fine though it unquestionably is, it is only one of many possible views of the work, and an indulgent one at that. Heifetz's approach is bracing - every note is clear, the sense of control and mastery is powerful. Yet the emotion and poetry are there too, in ample quantity, and all the more moving for being so disciplined.

In Sargent, Heifetz had an ideal partner. Sir Malcolm is not a fashionable conductor just at present, but he was a fine and sensitive accompanist, and there is the feeling here that conductor and soloist are in complete sympathy in their approach to the piece. The slow movement is sublime, and the outer movements have a sweep and a unity which is compelling.

The orchestral playing is excellent for its day, and the balance between orchestra and soloist particularly good. It's only in the orchestral tuttis that the limitations of the recording become apparent, with a catch-all sound quality that lacks detail. On the other hand, such places as the closing pages of the Andante, with their loving touches in the woodwind, come across with wonderful clarity.

The Walton is that bit older, and it shows, both in the quality of recorded sound and in the amount of surface noise. Neither is poor enough, however, to spoil the sense of immediacy of Heifetz's reading of this work. Having personally asked Walton to compose it for him, Heifetz gave the premiere in Cleveland in 1939 (the composer couldn't be there; the war had begun and he was, like Vaughan Williams before him, occupied driving an ambulance), making this first recording two years later.

Though the Cincinnati Orchestra is not an ensemble of the Cleveland's eminence, the orchestral playing is more than adequate, and Eugene Goossens secures the required bite and attack from his players. The melancholy, such an important feature of Walton's music, comes over strongly too, as you can tell just by listening to the opening of the concerto - beautifully done.

Heifetz is absolutely stunning in the brilliant music of the second and third movements. Some of the pyrotechnics are just unbelievable, yet he never loses sight of the music - a great and authoritative performance.

Those familiar with the engineer Mark Obert-Thorn's work on historic transfers will not be disappointed; this is another fine achievement. An issue to be treasured.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

See also review by Rob Barnett

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