After a long hiatus, I’m back, at the urging of an old friend (yes, Patrick). I’ve got a couple of pieces up for review, the first of which is Franck’s late Romantic Violin Sonata. It tracks classical form, but is a kind of bridge work with the coming French impressionists. Readings tend to emphasize the past or the future of its timing.
Erica Morini, on American Decca (DL 10038), is a prized soloist among collectors, but her 1961 rendition leaves me somewhat cold. Tempi are predictable and there’s not much emotion here. Little vibrato in the tone — and the limitations are not due to the mono sound. Straightforward, straightforward, straightforward. Firkusny as accompanist is, to my ears, uninteresting. One more reason why big-name collectable artists fetch far more than they might deserve on auction sites. The recording is unavailable on CD in the USA, but can be found in a DGG box set from Korea.
Contrast this, about 180 degrees, with the Polish academic virtuoso Kaja Danczowska, who recorded infrequently but was on record with fellow Pole Krysian Zimerman in a 1981 DGG record (2531-330) that is simply phenomenal. The richness of tone, technique, and dynamism of storytelling top Morini by far. In my opinion anyway. Oddly enough, the comparison makes Morini sound “academic.” Available on CD from Polydor’s “Originals.”
And for another contrast there is Perlman, in his 1969 Decca/London record with Ashkenazy, far more aggressive in accompaniment than any of the others yet, turning the sonata into a duet. Perlman also pushes further, too much so for some, no doubt, beyond Morini’s classical restraint. This is a concerto in chamber form. The sonics are superb, with a deep echo. Melodramatic for some, no doubt, as with the violin technique, digging deep on the opening tones. Also available on CD in the “Originals” series.
A contrast again: David Oistrakh, Russian trained and not anywhere near the romantic tones we hear from Perlman. But no less intense. Two versions, the EMI with Yampolski (1954) and Melodiya with Richter (1968, released in the US on EMI). This is disciplined playing, with the emotion held out for the downbeats, not the melodies. Technique governs here, not phrasing. Oistrakh was better cut out for Beethoven and his Kreutzer-wrenching gut-phrases than the emotional subtleties of the Franck. The opening bars of the final movement are as organized as a Russian troop movement, worlds away from how this sounds under Danczowska or Perlman. The music is marshalled. Intense yes, but not free. Available on CD with EMI’s Testament series (import).
The mono sound is excellent, and doesn’t encumber. Years later with Richter he seems to have opened up (a political metaphor, as with his colleague Rostropovich?) and the range expands. Speeds are slower, and there is more space to breathe. But still the feeling seems lacking. There seems to be a pacing about the room, not the exploration and joy we feel with Danczowska and Ashkenazy — as if there are all things new. In part, Richter’s piano accompaniment is plodding, and the footsteps keep us down, as a guide who is too slow through the historic house. The Melodiya version has been on CD in a number of iterations due to licensing confusion, including a remarkable Vox 2CD set from the ’90s.
Last but not least, Jascha Heifetz in a venerable 1937 recording, here on EMI Serphim. The sound is rich and warm. Perhaps overly rhythmic , the interpretation has most in common with Danczowska. It is “sympathetic” in the best sense. Not making emotional statements, but rather provoking questions. The drama of the ’37 sonics goes further than than stereo issues, if you have the opportunity to her it on vinyl. Available on CD as part of the Heifetz Collection.