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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.