Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041
Violin Concerto in E, BWV1042
Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, BWV1043
Violin Concerto in A, K219
Jascha Heifetz (violin; both parts in BWV1043)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Alfred Wallenstein [BWV1041 & BWV1042]
RCA Victor Chamber Orchestra
Franz Waxman [BWV1043]
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Malcolm Sargent
Double Concerto recorded 14 & 19 October 1946 in Hollywood
BWV1041 & BWV1042 recorded 6 December 1953 in Republic Pictures Studios, Hollywood
Mozart recorded 29 & 30 May 1951 in EMI Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: July 2008
CD No: NAXOS 8.111288
Duration: 71 minutes
In Bach, Heifetz (1900-1987, some entries claiming 1899 or 1901 as his year of birth) sometimes pays homage to the Romantic overhang of performing traditions from the previous century. For example, at 1’50” into the first movement of the A minor Violin Concerto I almost thought the music had come to an end, so positively did the rallentando land on the tonic key but I then realised that this is how performers refined such phrases in the mid-20th-century. Similarly, in the Mozart, the use of Joachim’s cadenzas, which were created in a style rather later than that of the composer’s period, is perfectly acceptable because the overall interpretation seems also to match that same pattern of thought.
Heifetz occasionally makes concessions towards accepting Romantic tradition with its tendency towards expressive slowing, but apart from a rather languid end to the central Largo, the Double Concerto is strictly in tempo. Could this be because Heifetz plays both solo parts? Maybe expressive shadings of tempo would have made the overdubbing of the second violin part virtually impossible. As it is, there is no problem at all with synchronisation. I find the similarity of tone between them refreshing and although it is facilitated by an engineering trick, I am still able to enjoy the music to its full extent.
Tully Potter’s intriguing booklet note gives many facts about Heifetz and includes an interesting discussion of the daring decision to record the Double Concerto with the same soloist together with a list of those who have done likewise. The presentation of these interesting details is eminently suitable for a disc featuring a single famous artist. This is excellent and informative writing, which illuminates all of these very individual interpretations and then strays into a discussion of the actual nature of one of the performances – that of the Mozart.
Sir Malcolm Sargent takes a very firm view of the music, obviously well aware that he is accompanying a soloist who takes a forceful approach. Orchestral phrasing boldly matches that of the soloist – Potter describes it as “cut and dried” and although I might not have used the phrase myself, it is a reasonable description. The author couches it in such a way however that it takes on a pejorative meaning by suggesting that Sir Malcolm’s approach contributes to this being the least attractive of Heifetz’s three recordings of the work. (This one is Heifetz’s second.) I am certainly happy with Sargent’s approach and because the violinist is so forwardly balanced I welcome the firmness of the orchestral accompaniment – I can agree that it is not particularly subtle but it is very suitable. The most thrilling moments come in the wild ‘Turkish’ episodes of the finale – taken at huge speed and with a perfection from Heifetz that is breathtaking. Yes we know that Heifetz always played all the right notes – but this is spectacular.
This is a release for those who can cope with an ‘old-fashioned’ approach to the interpretation of the classics while also appreciating violin-playing of supreme greatness.