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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Complete Sonatas for Violin and Piano
CD 1: No. 1 in D, Op. 12 No. 1a (1797/98) [16:23]; No. 2 in A, Op. 12 No. 2a (1797/98} [15:49]; No. 3 in E flat, Op. 12 No. 3b (1797/98) [18:12]; No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23b (1800) [18:12]
CD 2: No. 5 in F, Op. 24, “Spring”a (1801) [17:37]; No. 6 in A, Op. 30 No. 1b (1801/2) [21:57]; No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2c (1801/02) [23:23]
CD 3: No. 8 in G, Op. 30 No. 3b (1801/02) [17:33]; No. 9 in A, Op. 47, “Kreuzer”d (1803) [31:04]; No. 10 in G, Op. 96 (1812) [21:58]
Jascha Heifetz (violin); abcEmanuel Bay, dBenno Moisewitsch (pianos)
rec. a1947, b1952, c1950, d1951
ISTITUTO DISCOGRAFICO ITALIANO IDIS6560/2 [3 CDs: 68:28 + 63:14 + 71:41] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


Good to see this set available. The set is sturdily housed in a box. The booklet gives recording dates - year only - and a brief essay by Danilo Prefumo, so documentation tends towards the slim. Transfers are generally very good although the remastering engineer is not named.
 

The first Sonata finds Heifetz in relaxed mood. Technically, he is magnificent. Emanuel Bay’s accompaniments are on the faceless side, though – he is an accompanist rather than a partner. Even when presenting the theme in the second movement (a Tema con variazioni), there is the feeling of a half-voice from Bay, of a personality withheld, wilfully or otherwise. The central movement exemplifies the difference between the two players perfectly – Bay presents, Heifetz explores with ferocious curiosity. 

Interesting to compare these accounts of the Op. 12 Sonatas with an early instrument approach, that evinced by Jos van Immerseel and Midori Seiler on Zig-Zag Térritoires ZZT 070802. While one might think the approaches are diametrically opposed, one need only compare Heifetz and Seiler in Op. 12/2 to hear that Heifetz is absolutely in style, playful as can be when called upon to be so. The difference in quality between the two performances lies rather in the keyboardist. Jos van Immerseel plays on a Christopher Clarke copy of a Viennese Walther and is a paragon of style and character. Emanuel Bay is much less of a personality, and his semiquavers in the first movement are rather fudged, certainly in comparison to Immerseel. 

It is for moments that reveal Heifetz’s pure tone and purity of expression such as the opening of the second movement of the A major that many will wish to acquire this set. Rightly so – this is playing of the highest beauty, and, for once, Bay is up there with him. The whole movement is mesmeric. The brief (4:08) finale is full of A-major joie-de-vivre. Heifetz’s staccati are a source of much joy here. The E flat, Op. 12 No. 3, boasts a first movement that fully acknowledges the “con spirito” direction. There is an openness of communication here that outshines the period instrumentalists Immerseel/Seiler, plus some simply stunning playing from both players - the scalic interchanges around the five minute mark of the first movement, for example. Certainly Heifetz/Bay take the emotional laurels in a spellbinding Adagio con molta espressione. Heifetz’s occasional use of portamento expertly avoids the sentimental. 

The A minor Sonata, Op. 23 has always been one of the less popular of Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas, possibly because of the slightly restrained nature of its first movement. Yet the central Andante scherzoso, più Allegretto is marvellously intimate as well as slyly playful – both Heifetz and Bay are reading from the same script as far as this is concerned. 

Come the second disc, the first really famous Beethoven Sonata finds Heifetz in stunning form. The “Spring” sonata is gloriously played by the violinist. Bay is good, technically secure and the ideal gentleman accompanist, not bringing his character to the fore too much – a shame in a work that relies on true partnership. I hold a special affection for Perlman and Ashkenazy in this piece - currently on Decca Originals 475 7509 - who are more laid-back in the first movement where Heifetz and Bay press forward too much. Heifetz and Bay’s second movement is far better than their first – here one stops listening to and admiring Heifetz’s technique and starts listening to Beethoven. The scampering Scherzo finds both players delighting in cross-rhythms; a pity wit could not be part of the finale. Again, the occasional portamento might raise an eyebrow. 

The recording of the light A major, Op. 30 No. 1 dates from 1952. The highlight of this sonata is the Adagio molto espressivo, with its operatic phrases, moulded impeccably by Heifetz. The difference in stature between Heifetz and Bay does come through in the finale, though. The C minor seems to act as the A major’s alter ego. The recording is from a couple of years earlier. The energy of C minor suits Heifetz perfectly, and he revels in this especially when that energy is distilled into the lower dynamic levels. Of all the sonatas to date, it is this Sonata’s slow movement (Adagio cantabile) that finds the violinist on absolutely spell-binding form. Again, Bay cannot equal his accomplishment, which shows particularly when the instruments imitate one another. One needs performers of equal musical character here - as in Kremer/Argerich or Busch/Serkin. Neither can Heifetz and Bay quite capture the demonic humour of the Scherzo. The Finale fares better, its shifting moods accurately reflected.

The final disc begins with Op. 30 No. 3, which finds Heifetz in lively form. Bay feels too much in the background. Heifetz gives a memorable account of the solo part, including some magnificent phrasing and marvellously toned playing in the central Tempo di menuetto. That said, one would never guess the minuet link – Heifetz and Bay take the composer’s qualifier, “ma molto moderato e grazioso” a trifle too much to heart. The brief (3:20) finale is actually the most successful - full of vim.

Interesting that the only sonata in which Heifetz is joined by a significant pianist in  his own right is the “Kreutzer” Sonata. Comparison with the 1930 Bronislaw Huberman/Ignaz Friedman is apt here, as in each case a great violinist is joined by a pianist of equal stature. The Huberman is available on Naxos Historical 8.110736, Volume 4 of the complete Friedman, and includes an alternative take of Side One: the first movement – one was issued in the USA, one in the UK. Huberman is astonishingly proficient technically and simultaneously seems to go straight to the heart of Beethoven’s thought. For Huberman and Friedman, the finale is a stunning sequence of roulades punctuated by moments of still clarity, and in Ward Marston’s expert transfer the whole sonata is simply magnificent. The recording accorded to Heifetz and Moisewitsch is predictably clearer. The approach is a dynamic one, and the increased force of personality of his accompanist - certainly in comparison with Bay - makes for the most powerful performance of the entire set. The two instrumentalists seem to be sparking off one another rather than having the pianist in an overtly subservient role, an approach that suits this piece perfectly. The extended set of variations boasts some delicious playing from Moisewitsch, with Heifetz more than happy to take a back seat as required. The finale really is a Presto, and a helter-skelter one at that – yet it includes moments of tenderness, too. Just occasionally there is the feeling that Heifetz is skitting across the surface, treating it as he might an encore piece, for show.

Finally, Op. 96, a G-major outpouring that finds Heifetz in remarkably unbuttoned mood. The first movement contains much delicacy, and so foreshadows the beautiful Adagio espressivo, which Heifetz and Bay make into five minutes of pure joy – they also seem to link directly to the moments of calm in the finale. Here the clean, silent transfer really comes into its own.

To be welcomed on many levels, then, but take it on Heifetz’s terms. There are others more Beethovenian in this repertoire, to be sure, but this remains an important document.

Colin Clarke

 

 


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