BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Con. No. 2; BEETHOVEN: Romances; SPOHR: Concerto No. 8 – Jascha Heifetz, v./ London Sym. / Sir Malcolm Sargent/ RCA Victor Orch./ Izler Solomon/ William Steinberg (Beethoven) – Naxos

by | Sep 19, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BRUCH: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26; Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 44; BEETHOVEN: Romances in G Major and F Major for Violin an Orchestra; SPOHR: “Song-Scene” Concerto No. 8 in A Minor, Op. 47 – Jascha Heifetz, violin/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Sir Malcolm Sargent/ RCA Victor Orchestra/ Izler Solomon/ William Steinberg (Beethoven) – Naxos Historical 8.111371, 78:31 [Not Distr. In the U.S.] ****:
More vintage (1951-1954) Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987) performances as restored by veteran Mark Obert-Thorn grace this disc, especially valuable in its presentation of the Second Bruch Concerto and the Spohr A Minor Concerto, works that appear only sporadically in contemporary programs. The transfer of the G Minor Bruch Concerto (18 May 1951) has my personal appreciation, since in its LP form (RCA LP LM 9007) the silken rendition made a potent impact on me that found rivals only later in the Francescatti-Mitropoulos, Bustabo-Mengelberg, and Menuhin-Munch readings.
Though music critics have often condemned the Bruch G Minor as a “poor man’s Mendelssohn Concerto,” it provides a perfect vehicle for Heifetz, demanding both a suave legato and fiery attacks, to which Heifetz adds the burnished tone of his favorite 1742 Guarnerius del Gesu instrument. Heifetz had added the G Minor Concerto to his repertoire early, in 1913. After some hiatus, he resumed his championship in 1938. Though he and Malcolm Sargent would re-record the piece in stereo (1962) for RCA, they did not capture the same degree of electricity extant in this version, with Sargent’s meeting the tutti passages head-on, a whirlwind of vibrant colors. In the Adagio, soloist and orchestra converge in a vivid song without words, quite rapturous by Heifetz standards, in which a distant sang-froid too often reigns.
Frankly, from a musical point of view, the D Minor Concerto of Bruch (1878) remains something of a let-down, especially in view of the G Minor’s feverish intensity. Composed for Pablo de Sarasate, the piece projects rhetorical bombast rather than inspired melodic tissue, although the instrumental writing remains thoroughly idiomatic. Sarasate supposedly provided a program based on a warfare scenario from Spain‘s Carlist civil war—including a funeral procession and the charge of a cavalry regiment. Its two basically slow movements provide a dirge or Stabat Mater sensibility, while the last movement in 3/8 enjoys a more dance-like character. Heifetz collaborates (2 November 1954) with Izler Solomon (1910-1987), a gifted conductor famous in Columbus, Ohio and in Indianapolis, Indiana as well as Hollywood.
The two Beethoven Romances (15 June 1951, on RCA LM 9014) find Heifetz paired in Hollywood with William Steinberg, with whom he inscribed a lovely rendition of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy. The sweetness of the Heifetz tone is there, but whatever passion can be wrought in these two “Mozartean” studies escapes the microphones. The surface remains linear, the emphasis placed on the affinity of these two works for the G Major movement of the Violin Concerto.
Louis Spohr (1784-1859) is still celebrated as the first real concert-master in the history of music, rising from his chair to the left of the conductor to focus his section of the orchestra. His Concerto in A Minor “in the manner of an operatic song-scene” (1816) for a concert in Milan, whose audience Spohr noted was “voice-mad.” The violin part becomes a prima donna soprano, relishing her parlando and arioso effects, the long-lined coloratura of a voice determined to perpetrate aerial assaults like some liberated Bird of Paradise. The Italians loved the work, consciously praising Spohr for his having outshone the resources of even the most gifted human voices. Composed as one flowing movement with distinguishing sections, the Spohr serves Heifetz as a pure vocal evocation of recitative, cabaletta, and cadenza virtuosity. As an example of the Heifetz fluid magic, the performance (3 November 1954 on RCA LM 2027) proves indispensable.  The restored Naxos sound has Heifetz front and center, blazingly effective.
—Gary Lemco

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