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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 9 in A, Op. 47, ‘Kreutzer’ (1803) [31’01].
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108 (1888) [19’40]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Violin Sonata in A (1886) [25’08]
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
Benno Moiseiwitsch, William Kapell, Artur Rubinstein (piano)
Rec. Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London, on May 14th-15th, 1951, April 3rd, 1937 and RCA Studios, Hollywood, on November 29th-30th, 1950. ADD
From RCA Victor LM-1193, LM-71, HMV DB3206-08.
NAXOS HISTORICAL GREAT VIOLINISTS 8.110990 [75’49]

 

Although Jascha Heifetz was unanimously acclaimed as the most exceptional violinistic phenomenon of the 20th Century, it was his interpretative prowess which polarised, and continues to inflame passions.

The overwhelming majority of violinists remain enthusiastic devotees, whilst musicians in general and other enthusiasts remain ambivalent. Heifetz’s interpretations remain an acquired taste, but one to relish, once the requisite critical processes have been effectively accomplished.

This extraordinary disc of sonatas for violin and piano, by Beethoven, Brahms and Franck proves to be no exception.

Contrary to Heifetz’s usual practice of employing mere ‘accompanists’, he is partnered here by three pianists of exceptional stature, Moiseiwitsch, Kapell and Rubinstein, in the Beethoven, Brahms and Franck respectively, each impeccably suited to the task in hand.

Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, which begins the disc, receives a brisk, gritty and splendidly enigmatic performance and whilst the balance on the whole characteristically favours the violin, the clarity, scrupulous accuracy and meticulous phrasing of Moiseiwitsch’s playing wonderfully complements the indubitable virtuosity of his duo partner.

Heifetz’s choice of tempi would in the normal course of events be deemed cheerfully optimistic, but one is ultimately and unequivocally left in no doubt that such ease of execution, in even the most fiendish of passagework, illuminates aspects of the Kreutzer Sonata inaccessible to artists of lesser stature.

In the third and probably best known of Brahms’s sonatas for violin and piano, William Kapell is at the keyboard. Whilst Heifetz’s own performance is as opulent and passionate as one would expect, it is Kapell who really provides the exuberance, turbulence and excitement more usually associated with Brahms.

Heifetz‘s accuracy and fluidity is again mesmerising and he provides an object lesson in the judicious use of the expressive tools available in the violinist’s arsenal, especially with the exceptional variety in his vibrato and the subtlest use of portamenti, all but overcoming the apparent emotional reticence for which he has been all too often criticised.

The legendary Artur Rubinstein joins Heifetz for the final work on the disc, César Franck’s Sonata in A major, in an interpretation of this masterpiece which is nothing less than exceptional.

The ravishing interplay between Rubinstein’s unforced virtuosity and Heifetz’s lack of affectation effortlessly combine to provide a cumulative sense of drama which proves as overwhelming as it is irresistible.

Truly more than just the sum of the individual parts!

Mark Obert-Thorn and Naxos have to be congratulated for adding another valuable and historic performance to the collection of the connoisseur and music lover.


Leon Bosch

see also reviews by Colin Clarke and Jonathan Woolf



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