Tag Archives: Heifetz

Franck’s Violin Sonata

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 100_8560mono 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) 100_8561that 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 100_8562aggressive 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 100_8563from 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).

100_8564The 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.100_8565

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.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto

I knew this work from childhood, in the classic Heifetz version from RCA. As I’ve grown into a more mature critic, my opinions have migrated.

Mutter/KarajanFor a long time I was under the spell of Karajan and Mutter, who dig into the work with a serioso unmatched by the field. The tempi are slower, but perhaps the drama more exposed. And there is the overwhelming sound of the BPO, in all its richness, capturing every nuance of sonic dimension. But not the emotion. We are firmly in HvK’s world, with Mutter, but in comparison to several others….it is lacking.

Campoli, with Boult. An English touch, somehow both rich and light; Elgarian. Noble, not Germanic and heavy in its impact. Campoli’s tone delves deeper than Perlman or Francescatti, and Boult manages an ebb and flow that keeps the music flowing in a dramatic, but also delightful way with the accompaniment. There is less symphonic weight here compared to Karajan, but more storytelling. In the London Stereo Treasury pressing, there is also far more sonic depth and richness than the DGG digital press with HvK. It is astoundingly vivid. As with many of these later orange label reissues. This will not go into the eBay pile. And it presents a contrast not just with Mutter, but with Milstein, whose EMI I only recently got to know. Campoli appears to be available on CD only in an out-of-print specialty release. Hard to believe.

So now to Milstein. His EMI recordings were not issued early on CD, when I worked at Tower Records, and on LP they are among the most difficult to acquire. (He re-recorded the concerto with Claudio Abbado years later, in a much less compelling reading.) My copy of the EMI is a US Angel pressing, the prized Triangle stamper. Sound is absolutely pristene, with less surface noise than either the Campoli or the Mutter from later decades, though less sonic depth than the Campoli. Milstein floats with his light vibrato, a bit much at times perhaps, but ultimately conveying an elegance that blends with the drama of the work. This is a positively seductive reading, the violin tone drawing one in like a lover….in a way that that those of us who are vulnerable to the beauty of sound makes us literally weep. The second movement is a personal appeal, not a performance. There is a reason Milstein is different.

And then in the final movement he zips along…as capable of showing joy and exuberance as he is the intangibles of internal emotion.

I played this for my father some weeks ago, who raised me on the Classics, and he too was stunned. He knows the work but is not in the business of criticism. He knew nothing of Milstein. But after it passed all he had to say was “Bravo.”