Brian Wilson Download Roundup
, May 2011
It’s hardly surprising that the Naxos Historical Great Violinists series already contains several Jascha Heifetz recordings, including his 1949 recording of the original score of the Walton Violin Concerto, coupled with his 1941 version of the Elgar Violin Concerto on 8.110939. Now we have his 1950 recording of the revised version of the Walton, in re-mastered sound as bright as a button and coupled with three other recordings from the early LP era. The back cover of the CD refers to Heifetz’s polished elegance, but there’s more to it than that. Some of Paganini’s contemporaries thought that he’d sold his soul to the Devil to obtain such mastery of the violin: they might well have thought the same of Heifetz, when everything here seems grist to his mill.
The Walton concerto was composed for Heifetz and, while it’s good also to have more recent versions, notably from Nigel Kennedy, with the Viola Concerto (not currently available?), Kurt Nikkanen, and Naxos’s own digital recording with Dong Suk-Kang, a splendid bargain coupled with the Cello Concerto, Heifetz still reigns supreme, with Walton and the Philharmonia providing excellent support and Mark Obert-Thorn excelling himself with a transfer which makes the recording sound almost as if it were made yesterday. Even the limitations of mono hardly seem to matter.
After the Walton, the Saint-Saëns Havanaise inevitably sounds somewhat trite. Naxos have chosen to present these recordings in the chronological order of their setting down, but I could have wished the Walton to have been left until last. Nevertheless, it’s churlish to complain when Heifetz weaves his magic here, too, ably abetted by the RCA Orchestra and William Steinberg.
The Sinding Suite is more substantial and it, too, receives a performance that makes me wonder why we don’t hear this work as often as the composer’s Violin Concerto. This recording is rightly regarded as a Heifetz special.
The final work, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s ‘Prophets’ Concerto was also composed for Heifetz. As the notes observe, though it pre-dates his time in Hollywood, it does have a Technicolor quality not unlike Respighi or Korngold. Once more the music presents no problems for Heifetz and the LAPO under Wallenstein. Beecham used to have the knack of making good second-rate music sound first-rate and that’s exactly what all concerned do here.
I’ve already praised the quality of the Walton transfer but the whole of the rest of the programme has received equally fine re-mastering. I’ve heard some fine transfers recently from Beulah and High Definition Tape Transfers, but nothing to excel what I hear on this CD. There were just a few moments in the Castelnuovo-Tedesco when I felt that the treble needed to be tamed a little, but it’s not a serious problem.
Naxos already have the superb 1955 Heifetz/Reiner recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto in their download-only series (9.80081). Perhaps they would consider adding that to the Great Violinists series. For my money, Heifetz is the exponent of the Brahms, taking the opening movement at the only speed that makes sense unless you want to have a work with two slow movements.
This fine tribute to Jascha Heifetz is not available in the USA and in several other countries, for copyright reasons.