Jascha Heifetz Plays
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Violin Sonata No.1 in A major Op.13 (1875-77) [21:36]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Violin Sonata in G minor (1917) [12:04]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor Op.75 (1885) [21:44]
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
Emanuel Bay (piano)
rec. 1936 (Fauré) and 1950
IDIS 6591 [55:29]

This cannily selected trio of commercial recordings will be familiar to Heifetz admirers, but nevertheless makes for a winning Gallic triptych. The Fauré sonata is the only pre-war inscription, recorded with Emanuel Bay in 1936 and chosen in preference to the 1955 remake with Brooks Smith, which would have been, in the circumstances, the more obvious choice given the other two recordings date from 1950.

Heifetz was a bold, masculine Fauré player. His characteristic ‘Heifetz slides’ impart a memorable litheness and a slashing vitality to the sonata, both coaxing and illuminating. Whilst the ethos is hardly Gallic in orientation it is still fervid and rhythmically charged, his hooded, cloaked tonal resources at their apogee in the Andante inevitably. The sound level steps up a gear in the Scherzo, which is a touch disconcerting, though here the recording exacerbates a rather prominent steely sound as enshrined by the studio set up. Bay is, as so often, too much the horse and Heifetz too much the rider when it comes to the balance, which places the pianist at a significant aural remove. Heifetz is, on the whole, preferable to his Russian colleague Elman in this work but obviously Thibaud/Cortot is the first port of call for recordings of this vintage, followed by Francescatti/Casadesus and then Soriano/Tagliaferro. We lack a Dubois/Maas traversal, regrettably. As for the transfer it has tamed treble at the expense of room ambience and Jon Samuel’s work for Biddulph [LAB065, coupled with Grieg No.2] back in 1992 is still a viable alternative, and is preferable to the XR treatment on Pristine Audio PACM026.

The 1950 recordings show Heifetz at his mature peak. He only left behind one studio recording of the Debussy which he set down a few years after Francescatti and Casadesus’s famed US Columbia traversal of April 1946. Heifetz plays with sovereign command, of course, but occasionally distends phrases, milking them, and thereby loses impetus – not something that could very often be said of him. The most over-interventionist playing is in the first movement but one finds that, despite this being a powerful musical statement, and despite his playing and editing of Debussy miniatures the Sonata’s ethos was a little beyond him, certainly if one judges him against Thibaud or Dubois or Francescatti. By contrast he commands the resinous and athletic surety for the Saint-Saëns, a work to which he was to return in 1967 with Brooks Smith. Here he is monarchical in his digital control, expressive in the slow movement, and brilliant in the bowing and co-ordination challenges of the finale (I’ve seen a couple of violinists drop their bows in concert trying to dispatch this). The recording catches the abrasive quality of the music making, but some treble taming helps.

Jonathan Woolf

Shows Heifetz at his mature peak