Beethoven, Lalo

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Lalo
LABELS: Testament
ALBUM TITLE: Jascha Heifetz
WORKS: Romance No. 1; Romance No. 2; Symphonie espagnole; Poème
PERFORMER: JASCHA HEIFETZ with Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind, San Francisco SO/Pierre Monteux
CATALOGUE NO: SBT 1216 ADD mono
Has posterity dealt an unfair judgement on numerous gifted 20th-century violinists who lived in the shadow of such giants as Heifetz and Oistrakh? The question is difficult to answer because varying circumstances can so easily consign a brilliant performer to the sidelines. Take for example the Czech-born violinist GERHARD TASCHNER whose artistry is celebrated in a generously filled four-disc set of German radio recordings of 1949-60. A pupil of Hubay and Huberman, Taschner sprang to prominence as an extraordinary wunderkind in Thirties Vienna, and would surely have established a flourishing international career had it not been for the Nazi occupation of Austria and the outbreak of the Second World War. Taschner’s gifts as a consummate and musically intelligent performer of stylistically diverse virtuoso encore pieces (ranging from the bluesy harmonies of Gershwin’s Short Story to the pyrotechnic exuberance of Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy) are very much in evidence, though one might argue that it is somewhat indulgent to present two recordings of at least six of these works just because they were broadcast on different dates. The two discs devoted to sonata performances are more variable, partly I think because Taschner’s duo partners are not so strongly defined. So although there’s plenty of refinement in the reading of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, the performance of the Brahms G major seems rather laboured and neither Taschner nor pianist Edith Farnadi manage to get inside the idiom of the Ravel.

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While Taschner’s international reputation may have been thwarted by political events, the problem for OSCAR SHUMSKY seems to have been a shy and retiring personality that generally abhorred the necessity of spending too much of his time as an itinerant virtuoso. One of the last exponents of the Russian Romantic tradition as espoused by his teacher Leopold Auer, Shumsky appears to have left precious few recordings from his early career, but nonetheless enjoyed something of an Indian summer in the studio in his latter years. Three recordings he made for Nimbus in the early Eighties have been brought together in a boxed set, and they provide much evidence as to why he was so widely admired by connoisseurs. The Bach Violin Concertos accompanied by a bass-heavy Scottish Chamber Orchestra may be stylistically anachronistic, but they demonstrate an unfailing musicality of line. Likewise there is grace and elegance in two Mozart Concertos, though Shumsky’s earnestness robs the music of some of its charm and wit.

It is a moot point as to whether issues of gender played some part in the current neglect of artists such as ERICA MORINI, an Austrian-born violinist who spent most of her long career in the United States. Certainly her 1958 Westminster recordings of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky Concertos with the RPO under Artur Rodzinski are very fine indeed, presenting a violinist with a wonderfully sweet tone, impeccable intonation and a marvellous clarity of articulation. What is perhaps missing is a larger-than-life personality that stamps a specific interpretative character on these works, but one might argue that being a devoted servant to the music is far more important.

A more tragic case is that of EDA KERSEY whose early death in 1944 robbed the British musical world of a remarkable talent. A highly committed exponent of contemporary music, Kersey assiduously promoted Bax’s Violin Concerto after its rejection by Heifetz. Her 1944 recording of the work, preserved by the BBC and issued commercially for the first time in an excellent transfer, reveals an interpreter of bold gestures, imagination and a passionate involvement which serves to bind the contrasting elements of the work into a convincing entity. Another wartime recording made by HMV of the Third Symphony with the Hallé Orchestra under John Barbirolli makes this release indispensable, especially to devotees of English music.

Naxos’s great violinists series has now extended its area of exploration beyond Heifetz, Kreisler and Menuhin with two issues featuring ADOLF BUSCH and JOSEPH SZIGETI. Both releases enjoy the benefits of Mark Obert-Thorn’s wonderfully natural-sounding transfers and afford many delights for the listener. Busch’s partnership with Rudolf Serkin in three Beethoven Sonatas, performed according to the informative booklet notes from memory, is electrifying, nowhere more so than in the 1941 Kreutzer where the fiery dialogue between the instruments in the outer movements has the kind of adrenaline that is only rarely experienced in the concert hall. The Szigeti Thirties recordings of the D major concertos of Mozart and Beethoven are stylish and immaculate with orchestral accompaniments from Beecham and Walter that are strongly characterised if occasionally wilful.

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Finally, no aficionado of great violin-playing will want to overlook Testament’s release of previously unpublished recordings from JASCHA HEIFETZ. Admittedly the release replicates repertory that is already available as part of BMG’s mammoth Heifetz Collection. But there are strong grounds for arguing that the 1950 EMI versions of the Beethoven Romances and the Lalo Symphonie espagnole demonstrate a greater flexibility of nuance and clarity of orchestral timbre than the more familiar American recordings. Moreover the Chausson Poème, recorded in 1945 with the San Francisco Symphony under Pierre Monteux, has a searing passion that utterly contradicts the notion that Heifetz was a cold and emotionally aloof interpreter.