Comparison Recording of the Prokofiev
Itzhak Perlman, Rozhdestvensky, BBC
SO EMI 562 592-2
Comparison Recordings of the Sibelius
Jascha Heifetz, Sir Thomas Beecham,
LPO [1935 ADD] EMI Reference 64030
Jascha Heifetz, Sir Thomas Beecham,
LPO [1935 ADD] Naxos 8.110938
Anne Sophie Mutter, Andre Previn, Staatskapelle
Dresden DGG 447 895
Arnold Eidus, Hummel, VSO. Stradivari
Leonidas Kavakos, Osmo Vänskä,
Lahti SO (1903 version) BIS CD 500
Henning Kraggerud, Bjarte Engeset, Bournemouth
SO Naxos DVD-Audio 5.110056
Comparison Recordings of the Glazunov
Julia Fischer, Yakov Kreizberg, Russian
SO Pentatone SACD 5186 059
Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Israel
PO EMI CDC 7 49814-2
This Heifetz recording
of this Prokofiev concerto is one of
the finest performances and recordings
of anything ever done, and in this splendid
new digital reincarnation critical sonic
details come through with added clarity,
e.g., the pp bass drum notes.
Heifetz and Munch attain the Haydnesque
almost robot-like andante assai
accompaniment in the slow movement contrasting
vividly with the melting sweetness of
the violin line. Most importantly, in
all of these re-mastered Heifetz recordings
the violin tone is greatly enriched
to the benefit of Heifetz’s reputation.
Surprisingly, for an artist who recorded
as much as he did, microphones were
not kind to Heifetz’s tone.* On many
commercially released recordings, Heifetz
sounds astringent, gritty, sour, even
false; but here we hear what he really
sounded like and the real beauty and
complexity of his tone is made clear
on recording at last for those of us
who could never hear him play live up
Perlman do a beautiful job with this
work also, warmer, sweeter, more rhapsodic,
a smoother surface throughout. Timings
on the first and second movement are
12% longer. Some will like the performance
better although the recording quality,
while excellent for CD, cannot compare
with the SACD.
In the Sibelius Concerto
Heifetz is competing with himself; his
1935 recording with Beecham remains
a monument, a standard not yet surpassed;
however, that primitive recording distorts
the overall orchestral sound as well
as leaving many details inaudible. Real
connoisseurs will need both recordings
to truly appreciate Heifetz’ accomplishment.
Wisely not attempting to better Heifetz,
other violinists move in other directions.
Mutter and Previn give us hair-tearing,
tear-jerking, foot-stomping gypsy passion.
Eidus goes them even one further; his
first two movements are gut-wrenching,
heart-rending, but he actually can’t
manage the rapid leaps and double-stops
in the finale. Kavakos gives us the
"original" 1903 version, as
much like the familiar 1905 version
as Mussorgsky’s original Boris
is like the Rimsky-Korsakov version.
When you think you’ve heard everything
in this concerto, then listen to the
earlier version, hear Sibelius’ creative
mind in action, and thus deepen your
understanding of the artistic decisions
he eventually made in comparison with
his original inspirations. Kraggerud
and Engeset give a very capable, very
individual reading on a surround sound
DVD-Audio. Another worthy version I
have enjoyed is by Tossy Spivakovsky
and Tauno Hannikainen on Everest, and
classic account by Julian Sitkovetsky
(father of Dimitri) also deserves mention.
In the notes to the
Perlman recording, the annotator* says
that the Violin Concerto is "...
generally regarded as Glazunov’s most
brilliant and effective composition."
That may have been a true statement
in 1989, however no one who has heard
a good recording of the Fifth Symphony
(Polyansky, or Fedoseyev) or the First
Symphony (Järvi) could possibly
agree with it. It is interesting that
some passages clearly inspired Prokofiev
in his Second Violin Concerto.
Although sensationally popular in Russia,
Glazunov is only now becoming known
in the West. The Violin Concerto
has been familiar for a long time,
but we have many treasures yet to discover,
and when that has occurred, the Violin
Concerto will probably move down
a few notches in the list.
In the Glazunov Concerto
the "RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra"
would likely be either the 20th Century
Fox or MGM Studio orchestra, or maybe
members of both, first-rate musician
friends of Heifetz’s, come just down
the street from the studios to the hall.
In spite of the exceptional recording
quality, Heifetz’ emotionality here
leaves me relatively unaffected; it
seems artificial, calculated; but, be
that as it may, Heifetz’ performance
of the cadenza is a stunning musical
achievement you won’t want to miss hearing.
Perlman gives us authentic emotion and
drama. Fischer, on a Pentatone surround
sound SACD, gives us a clear, straightforward
but sensitive reading without sentimentality
and makes the dramatic structure of
the work more evident. Overall, I prefer
both Perlman and Fischer to Heifetz
in this concerto.
However, the recording
of the accompaniments in all cases is
clearly superior on the RCA to the others,
even to the newer surround sound recordings.
You will hear new details in the orchestral
parts. With these rich detailed recordings
it is easy enough to generate convincing
rear channel information from a quality
surround sound processor.
*In contrast to Louis
Kaufman, who recorded most working days
of his career, and sounded extremely
good over the microphone. In person
he may not have sounded so good.
see also review
by Jonathan Woolf