Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35 [30:32]
Julius CONUS (1869-1942)
Violin Concerto in E minor [18:21]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zigeunerweisen, Op.20/1 [8:22]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35 [21:57]
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind (Tchaikovsky)
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Isler Solomon (Conus), William Steinberg (Sarasate)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Alfred Wallenstein (Korngold)
rec. July 1950, EMI Abbey Road Studio No.1, London (Tchaikovsky); December 1952, United Artists Studios, Hollywood (Conus); June 1951 (Sarasate) and January 1953 (Korngold), Sound Stage 9, Republic Pictures, Hollywood
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111359 [79:12]
Mention the name of Jascha Heifetz in certain circles and you're still likely to hear the same half-baked clichés about an excess of speed and shortage of soul. Now, from Naxos and restoration wizard Mark Obert-Thorn, comes conclusive proof to the contrary, if any were needed. Naxos’s invaluable Heifetz series plants both feet in the 1950s, bringing us some of his most sensitive and appealing recordings, including two rarities in the Heifetz discography.
There's no doubt that Heifetz tempos occasionally verged on self-parody. It comes as some surprise, then, to hear the room afforded to the principal melody of the Tchaikovsky concerto in this 1950 recording with Walter Susskind and the Philharmonia, the second of his three studio recordings. It's still swift, but Heifetz allows subtle flexibility and warm character to colour the music. It's utterly lovely playing, with Heifetz's cheekily smudged finger-work into the second theme [2:48] being a particular highlight - although an errant chord from what sounds like a harp, clearly plucked by accident, invades this unaccompanied passage. One less appealing aspect of the recording - as with all of his studio recordings of the work - is Heifetz's inclusion of his (and Auer's) retouched virtuoso passages which, thankfully, seem to have fallen by the wayside in recent decades. They're totally unnecessary blemishes on the score and, when hearing the meal that the normally faultless Heifetz makes of the last of these 'improvements' [14:37], I'm at a loss to understand why he chose to include them at all. In comparison with the 1937 EMI recording, with the London Philharmonic under John Barbirolli (Naxos Historical 8.111359), I hear a greater intensity of expression in this 1950 account, particularly in his rhapsodic reading of the slow movement. The finale is a little less appropriately capricious than the 1937 set, though Heifetz's exchanges with the wind and cellos in the slower central section [from 2:33] are wonderfully conversational. Even with the above caveats, this is one of the major Tchaikovsky recordings and one of Heifetz's most appealing performances.
He is imploringly persuasive in a less than memorable concerto by Russian violin virtuoso Julius Conus. This work dates from 1898 and is oddly slanted towards the first movement, being almost totally without a finale. Apparently a favourite of Heifetz's teacher, Leopold Auer, it's picked up a few recordings over the years and while it is a competent work - especially in the singing solo line - there's a dearth of memorable thematic material and some plodding orchestration, particularly in the tutti sections. It tends towards a gloomy Russian angst, rather like Tchaikovsky in Manfred mode. Heifetz makes the best possible case for the solo part and both this, and the Sarasate Zigeunerweisen, which follows, display his unmatched ability to sustain a long line at maximum intensity. In the kitsch solemnity of Sarasate's gypsy pastiche, Heifetz impresses holding the tension across the almost involuntary flourishes which pervade the solo line.
Perhaps the most historically important document here is Heifetz’s only recording of Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Heifetz pressed Korngold to complete the concerto, which had been started some years before with another violinist in mind. The result is a fitfully appealing work firmly rooted in Korngold’s Hollywood style. It seems a perfect match for Heifetz’s hyper-suave sound. Typically intense, he is sweet but urgent at the concerto’s outset, though I yearned for something gentler in the second theme. There are issues of production, however, which detract. The balance between soloist and orchestra in the finale reduces the orchestra to a distant supporting role, as though they are playing in the next room, presenting nothing like a realistic concert balance. That’s not to say, however, that Mark Obert-Thorn has done anything other than a fine job with these transfers, which tend to have a greater depth than those in RCA’s Heifetz Collection, released in the mid-1990s. Tully Potter’s expert liner-notes round off a valuable and hugely enjoyable issue.
1950s Heifetz recordings of the highest class in vivid transfers from the ever dependable Mark Obert-Thorn.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf