, January 2011
Another triple-concerto disc now comes from Naxos and adds the Sarasate Zigeunerweisen for good measure. All four were recorded in the early 1950s.
There are three commercial Heifetz recordings of the Tchaikovsky, all made in London, with Barbirolli, Susskind and Sargent. Off-air traversals have survived as well, for example the 1949 Los Angeles/Hollywood Bowl with William Steinberg (review). My own favourite is the Barbirolli when Heifetz was at his freshest and ripest, but the tautly expressive control of this 1950 traversal comes with the added advantage of better recorded sound and the Philharmonia with its warm string tone and phalanx of exceptional wind soloists, who grace the work’s tapestry with liquidity and eloquence. The subtle warmth of Heifetz’s Canzonetta is contained within a forward-moving pulse, but one that at no times becomes cool; there’s such a wealth of nuance here, and in the finale the cantilena is augmented by some especially richly voiced wind statements, and terrifically exciting final few paragraphs.
Whereas Heifetz was strongly associated with Tchaikovsky, he only left behind one recording of the concerto by Julius Conus, and may not often have played it with orchestra; in the early days he’d played it in piano reduction at recitals. The Conus is a Glazunov-sized work though it lacks the Glazunov’s profuse lyricism and stream of ideas. That said it is full of panache and rich expression and makes a fine statement, fluent in the opening movement, reaching a peak of passionate intensity in the Adagio, then laying on a virtuosic cadenza at the start of the finale after which, with a memorable ‘flick’, Heifetz is off for the finishing line. In truth the finale is rather ungenerously shaped, but no matter when the playing is so convincing; and listen to the ballsy horn playing too. The work was premiered by the composer-executant in 1898 and if you are intrigued by Conus—and I mean really intrigued—you should know that he was the first violinist to have recorded; his private cylinders made in 1892 can be heard in an amazing Marston two-disc set (see review). And for a modern counterpart to the Heifetz recording you could do a lot worse than seek, out the few made, that of Perlman.
The Sarasate is a splendid vehicle for Heifetz, and so too is the Korngold, one of his very best recordings in my opinion. As is, I think, well-known, though Heifetz badgered Korngold to finish the concerto, it had originally been intended for Huberman, who was to die shortly after the premiere. It’s curious to think what kind of work it would have sounded had Huberman lived to give its first performance and recording—spikier, less ingratiating, rougher-hewn. The 1953 recording was made, not inappropriately, in Sound Stage 9 of Republic Pictures Studios in Hollywood, and witnesses one of the violinist’s habitual feats of marvellously communicative, quiveringly intense and breathtakingly virtuosic violin playing. Once heard, never forgotten.
Excellent restorations and notes enhance this release. Father Christmas seems not to have delivered to me, as requested, the recent vast 103 CD Sony Heifetz Complete Album Collection, so this disc will have to do for now. And very nicely too.