About this Recording
8.110940 - BRAHMS / GLAZUNOV: Violin Concertos (Heifetz) (1934, 1939)

Heifetz-Violin Concertos

The major performance on this disc is a rare collaboration between the two best string virtuosi of their time, Jascha Heifetz and Emanuel Feuermann. It is rare because that astonishing cellist Feuermann went into hospital for a routine operation and died of complications when he was not yet forty. At the time of his death there were plans to make further records with Heifetz, including all the Beethoven string trios; the third player was to have been the finest violist of the day, Scots-born William Primrose. As it is, we have two amazing performances by these three stars, Mozart’s Divertimento in E flat, K563, and Dohnanyi’s Serenade, as well as Beethoven’s, ‘Eyeglass’ Duet with Primrose and Feuermann and a handful of piano trios with Artur Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann.

Violinist and cellist both came from the Jewish diaspora which at the turn of the twentieth century covered much of Eastern Europe; but one was trained in the Russian school - actually a mixture of Hungarian, Czech and French - while the other grew up in the Austro-German sphere of influence. Yakov ‘Jascha’ Heifetz was born in Vilna, Lithuania, on 2nd February, 1901 and at three started learning the violin with his father, who soon passed him on to the Auer pupil Ilya Malkin. At five he gave his first public performance and at six he played the Mendelssohn E minor Concerto in Kovno. Jews were not allowed in the Russian capital St Petersburg except by special permit; and to enable Jascha to live with his family when he entered the Conservatory in 1911, his father had to enrol too. Heifetz quickly became Leopold Auer’s favourite pupil and made his St Petersburg and Berlin débuts in 1911 and 1912. He missed the political upheavals of 1917 but created his own October Revolution that year with a New York début recital which is still talked about. From then until his death in Los Angeles on 10th December 1987 he was recognised as the finest violinist in the world.

Emanuel ‘Munio’ Feuermann was born in Kolomea, Galicia, on 22nd November 1902. His father, who could play both violin and cello, started him on the violin; but the family’s hopes were pinned on elder brother Siegmund, a violin prodigy who later burned out, and Munio’s switching to the cello was treated as little more than a diversion. He made astonishing progress, however, and when the family moved to Vienna he studied with a leading member of the Court Opera Orchestra, Anton Walter. In 1913 he made his début with the Tonkünstler Orchestra under Oskar Nedbal, playing Haydn’s D major Concerto, and in 1914 he played it with the Philharmonic under Weingartner. The Feuermann brothers began to tour their interpretation of Brahms’s Double Concerto, playing it in 1916 with the Berlin Philharmonic under Weingartner and the Gewandhaus Orchestra under Nikisch. After the Leipzig concert, Feuermann senior asked the celebrated principal cellist and pedagogue Julius Klengel: ‘What do you think of my son the violinist?’ To which Klengel replied: ‘Just give me your son the cellist for two years!’ The next year Munio was duly delivered to Klengel and at sixteen he emerged as such a finished artist that he was given the cello teaching post at the Cologne Conservatory. In 1929, by which time he was famous throughout Europe, he moved to the Berlin Hochschule: but he was dismissed when the Nazis came to power and after an unsettled period during which he toured the Far East twice and the United States three times, he settled in New York in 1938. His death on 25th May 1942 shocked the musical world.

Feuermann’s technical command has not been surpassed since. He took the advances made by Casals even further and pioneered a technique in which the left-hand fingers seemed almost to walk about the fingerboard. His unique vibrato was another facet of his left-hand control but he was just as adept with the bow, performing hitherto unheard-of feats. He also had an arrogance which made him the perfect foil for Heifetz. The Russian liked to make every collaboration into a sort of competition - in all the years he played with Primrose, he never gave the violist so much as an upbeat or a wink, to let him know when to start playing. Such competition was meat and drink to Feuermann; hence the lofty air of partnership in this performance of the Double Concerto. Feuermann had two decades of experience of playing the work and he was not going to let Heifetz hijack it; he was perhaps the only musician ever to stand up to the violinist and force him to be a partner rather than a leader. In spite of their different backgrounds, the two men also complemented one another tonally; the concerto has never again been so suavely played. Ormandy holds things together well and the present transfer is the clearest yet accorded this famous recording.

The Glazunov performance was among the first substantial recordings Heifetz made. He had been a top Victor artist since 1917 and his discs had also done well in Europe, where they were marketed by His Master’s Voice and its affiliates; but up to 1934 he had made no concerto records. RCA Victor and HMV arranged a two-pronged strategy by which he would record in England with the young John Barbirolli and in America with the charismatic Leopold Stokowski. The English end of the deal went well, as Barbirolli was an excellent accompanist, and early in 1934 successful performances of the Mozart ‘Turkish’ and Glazunov Concertos were set down. But an attempt to record the Sibelius Concerto with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra resulted in a clash of wills and a performance which Heifetz refused to have issued. And so his major projects were centred on England, where he had a big following, until the end of 1937, when RCA Victor began to find congenial American partners for him. In recording the Glazunov Concerto - a lovely work neglected today, because its brevity does not fit conveniently into the stereotyped overture-concerto-symphony programme - Heifetz was stealing a march on his colleague Nathan Milstein, who was more closely linked with it. But how beautifully he plays it, and how well he matches the trumpet theme at the start of the finale.

Bruch was one of Heifetz’s specialities and he sculpted the melodies of the First and Second Concertos with a patrician elegance. He even excelled in the Scottish Fantasy, a folksy picture postcard written for Sarasate. Here Heifetz’s aristocratic delivery of the genuine Scots songs could even make one forget that he made a few little cuts here and there. This performance was recorded just after the war in Hollywood, as Heifetz had moved to the West Coast after the collapse of his first marriage. The orchestra was presumably drawn from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with a few of the superb players who worked for the film studios. In charge on the podium was that great character Hans Wilhelm Steinberg (1899-1978), originally from Cologne. He helped to found what is now the Israel Philharmonic and after emigrating to the United States became ‘William’ - although during his spell with the Buffalo Philharmonic he happily referred to himself as Buffalo Bill.

Thlly Potter

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