About this Recording
8.557670 - HEIFETZ: Transcriptions for Violin and Piano
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Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987)
Transcriptions for Violin and Piano

 

Jascha Heifetz was born in Vilnius in 1901, the son of a violinist, his first teacher from the age of three. Further lessons from Elias Malkin enabled him, by the age of six, to play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and at the age of nine he was able to enter St Petersburg Conservatory, eventually to join the class of Leopold Auer. He made his international début in Berlin in 1912, later in the same year appearing as soloist in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Nikisch. In 1917 he left Russia for a concert tour in the United States, making his American début at Carnegie Hall and his first commercial recordings, and eight years later became an American citizen. He made his first return to Russia in 1934 and for many years he continued an international career of great brilliance and distinction, earning a legendary reputation as a virtuoso, as well as for his performances of chamber music with musicians of similar fame and calibre, such as the pianist Artur Rubinstein, the cellists Emanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky, and the viola-player William Primrose. In his later years he taught at the University of South California in Los Angeles, where the Heifetz Chair of Music was established for him, giving master-classes, but with relatively few pupils. He gave his final recital and made his last recordings in 1972. He died in 1987.

As a player Heifetz did much to develop the techniques of violin-playing, influencing many younger players through his virtuosity, his agility and speed in performance, the purity of his intonation, his handling of the bow and his use of vibrato, and providing a standard against which other performances of standard concert repertoire might be measured. He introduced new concertos, some written specially for him. This contemporary concerto repertoire included concertos by William Walton, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Erich Korngold and Miklos Rózsa. At the same time he was responsible for a large number of transcriptions for violin and piano, many of which remain in standard virtuoso repertoire.

In 1923 Heifetz acquired the instrument that he preferred, made in 1742 by the last of the family, Giuseppe Guarneri, known as Guarneri del Jesù. He also had a Tononi instrument and instruments by Antonio Stradivari. His apparent impassivity in performance concealed strong powers of concentration and interpretations that were carefully planned, with every attention to detail.

The present recording opens with a transcription of Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 2, a work written in 1843 and dedicated originally to Chopin's Scottish admirer Miss Jane Wilhelmina Stirling. The long melodic lines of the Nocturne, with only the lightest addition of double-stopping, are in marked contrast to the energy of the Russian-Jewish composer Alexander Krein's Dance No. 4, with its suggestions of the kletzmer style that had been part of Krein's family background.

'Jeanie with the light brown hair', by the American composer Stephen Foster, author also of the words of what has all the familiarity of a long-established folk-song, is treated with idiomatic assurance. Again a contrast is provided in the famous arrangement of the much-transcribed Flight of the bumble-bee, taken from Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, where it serves as an entr'acte illustrating the activities of Prince Guidon, disguised as a bee to sting revenge on his wicked aunts. Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from his opera Orpheus and Eurydice is given with all the serenity that the Elysian fields demand, as the legendary Orpheus seeks to retrieve his beloved Euridice from the Underworld.

Prokofiev's idiosyncratic musical language is revealed in the transcription of the March from his opera The Love for Three Oranges, a work based on a play by Gozzi in which the melancholy Prince is the victim of a curse that forces him to seek the love of the title. The perky little March is a recurrent feature in the work. Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, based on Mallarmé, created by Nijinsky and notably danced by Serge Lifar in a succeeding generation, is remarkably convincing in violin transcription, which captures the essence of the piece.

The Italian-Jewish composer Mario Castlenuovo-Tedesco found himself obliged in 1939 to leave his native country and settle in the United States, where, like many others, he found an outlet in the composition of music for the cinema. Heifetz commissioned a violin concerto from him and his Tango is a version of the composer's own arrangement derived from his setting of a song from Shakespeare's play A Winter's Tale for the shepherdess Mopsa. A measure of calm is restored with the traditional negro Deep River.

The angular musical idiom of Prokofiev is immediately evident in the excerpt from his ballet Romeo and Juliet, taken from the scene of the Masks, where Romeo first sees Juliet. Richard Strauss's early Stimmungsbilder, Op. 9, a set of piano mood pictures provides, in the first of these pieces, the evocative Auf stillen Waldespfad (Along the silent forest path), which makes an admirable singing violin piece. The breadth of Heifetz's taste is demonstrated by the following Ao pé da fogueira, a version of a Prelude by the versatile Brazilian composer and violinist Flausino Rodrigues Vale, characterized by its continued double-stopping.

Sevilla by Isaac Albéniz is an arrangement of a piano piece from his Suite Española, splendidly captured in its essence in the transcription, with its opening suggestion of the guitar and its contrasts of mood. It is followed here by one of Heifetz's most famous transcriptions, his version of the Romanian composer and violinist Grigoraş Dinicu's lively Hora staccato. Debussy's take on ragtime, Golliwogg's Cake-walk, is shown in a new light in the violin and piano arrangement of a piano piece that had formed part of the composer's Children's Corner, written for his young daughter.

Heifetz recorded the Hungarian composer Ernő Dohnányi's Serenade for violin, viola and cello with William Primrose and Emanuel Feuermann. Less familiar is the Romanza from the Suite in F sharp minor. It leads to an arrangement of one of the most popular works by the Mexican Manuel Ponce, echoes of which are heard in the same composer's violin concerto. The recording ends with one of Heifetz's arrangements of songs from George Gershwin's black opera Porgy and Bess, 'A woman is a sometime thing', into which he injects something of the drama, as he develops and varies the material.

Keith Anderson


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