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Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor Op.47
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Walter Hendl, recorded January 1959
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op.63
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch, recorded February 1959
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Violin Concerto in A minor Op.82
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Walter Hendl, recorded June 1963
Jascha Heifetz (violin) with accompaniments as above

It made for instructive listening digging out my RCA Heifetz Great Concertos LP box set - blood red and starkly powerful of livery. All three of these concertos, and much else besides, were in that set. The most obvious improvement in terms of immediacy of sound between that much-loved set and this SACD incarnation comes in the Sibelius. What was amorphous has now become clear. The semi-audible introductory orchestral rustle of the erstwhile LP is now a vivid and organic sound, tremulous and expectant. The solo line also emerges with greater italicisation and curvature, without damage to the tone. Whilst details such as this are not as dramatic elsewhere thereís no mistaking the greater clarity and immediacy of the SACD. The performance needs no endorsement from me, though I donít rank it higher than the earlier Beecham 78 set that Heifetz recorded in London, though itís certainly swift. Nor, for that matter, is it as tensile as the Neveu, as aristocratic as the Francescatti or as powerfully humane as the Ignatius.

The Prokofiev is the hostage of some weird balances. I canít think why the wind lines were as over recorded as they are here but they are obtrusive. Szigeti tended to hegemony of the First Concerto whilst Heifetz staked his claim to the Second (and Iím not aware that either played the otherís concerto). The inimitable "Heifetz slides" are here in profusion and a glamorous intensity of sound, though one that tends toward the linear; the slow movement is relatively fleet and though it relaxes with great subtlety I can never quite reconcile myself to Heifetzís tempi. For me Oistrakh and Galliera are the pack leaders. The orchestral playing and sound are of course much preferable here than was the case in the earlier Heifetz recording with Koussevitzky.

Two of the greatest recordings of the Glazunov were made with the same orchestra Ė the RCA Victor. Milsteinís 1949 outing with Steinberg in 1949 is justly famed but I equally admire this Heifetz with Hendl fourteen years later, though the fires had begun to dip slightly and the tone was not quite as rapier brilliant as in his youth. This was reinforced by the LP transfer which seems to have been fractionally flat. The sound from the LP transfers Iíve heard has a heavier, less mobile sound and with a slower vibrato. Itís also RCA up front in sound. Here thereís a big difference. Re-pitching has made Heifetzís tone lighter, more flexible and subtler; it also doesnít dominate the aural perspective as it did, much to the advantage of the performance.

The original liner notes have been reproduced and the Living Stereo livery, which sports LP spines in the background, adds a welcome slice of living nostalgia to the enterprise. A stellar trio of recordings then; none at the very top, despite Heifetzís sovereign playing, but all of an awe-inspiring level.

Jonathan Woolf


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