Both these recordings
are staples of course, and incarnations have been many and
various over the years. RCA brought out the Brahms, for
instance, in its uniform liveried re-release series last
year (coupled with the Double Concerto with Piatigorsky
and Wallenstein). Both performances have their adherents
and detractors; Heifetz recorded the Tchaikovsky four times
commercially – with Barbirolli pre-War, twice with Sargent,
and this recording with Reiner. As for the Brahms the reference
recording was his 1939 Boston/Koussevitzky.
There’s no getting
away from the fact that Heifetz takes speeds that are consistently
brisk in the Brahms. Even a professed admirer, great player
(and finger gymnast of the first mark, so “he could if he’d
wanted to”) such as Leonid Kogan in his own contemporaneous
recordings took markedly slower speeds in every movement
of both concertos. In passages where others apply a degree
of metrical freedom Heifetz drives forward; there is a sense
of absolute tempo directionality that is absorbing if not
always warming. There is no sense of physical or digital
strain and no technical impediment to Heifetz’s playing
– the finger position changes and colouristic devices offer
a panoply of exalted musicianship and his own cadenza offers
equal challenges to colleagues – have any of them picked
up the cadenza? This is driving and leonine playing all
round, though in the slow movement we find plenty of expression
from the soloist and once more unremitting colour changes.
Some indeed will find too many – that the sense of relaxation
is missing, and that the phrasing lacks a certain longer
line. The finale is driving and adrenalin-fuelled, not perhaps
the kind of finale you find from Busch or from Szigeti,
two of the leading exponents of this work on disc, but energising
in the extreme.
offers some intensely vibrated tone, some Heifetz slides
and some brilliant passagework. He too finds the “intimacy”
that Joshua Bell sought in his latest recording of this
work, unsuccessfully in my view, but of a wholly different
kind. The drive here is dynamic, rhythms are sharply etched,
and there is abundant sentiment and coruscating drama. A
bit too much however toward the end of the first movement
where Heifetz adds some of his own amendments to the solo
part (I think it’s pure Heifetz, it could be Auer-Heifetz).
The slow movement is effortlessly lyric and contoured and
the finale is buoyant, brilliant and blistering but full
too of the subtlest inflexions and accelerandi. My own preference
however remains the 1935 Barbirolli for its greater degree
I’ve not mentioned
Reiner. He responds to Heifetz with sang froid and elevated
professionalism, drawing out the lines of the Tchaikovsky
slow movement for instance with great feeling and accommodating
the fast tempi in the Brahms with nerveless control, even
if he would, with another soloist, doubtless have relaxed
and modified many of the tempi.
relatively high volume I heard some tape degradation in
the opening of the Tchaikovsky and also a degree of surface
noise which makes one wonder as to the state of the tapes.
I listened on an ordinary set up, not one rigged for SACD.
Self-recommending to Heifetz admirers but surely they have
these performances already and won’t need an SACD incarnation?