LABELS: EMI Great Recordings of the Century
WORKS: Violin Concerto in D,Violin Concerto in E minor
PERFORMER: Yehudi Menuhin (violin); Philharmonia Orchestra, Berlin PO/Wilhelm Furtwängler
CATALOGUE NO: CDM 5 66975 2 ADD mono Reissue (1954)
Yehudi Menuhin recorded Beethoven’s Violin Concerto on five separate occasions; once apiece with Klemperer, Silvestri and Masur, and twice, famously, with Wilhelm Furtwängler. Their 1953 remake (coupled with Mendelssohn’s Concerto) now resurfaces in EMI‘Great Recordings of the Century’ series. The digitised mono transfer isn’t ideal, with compressed dynamic range and ruinous tape-hiss, but the performance remains compelling, despite certain lovable eccentricities. Menuhin’s restrained eloquence matches Furtwängler’s deeper spiritual yearnings, but at over 24 minutes, the opening Allegro loses momentum and structural cohesion, and the rondo finale (10:24) sounds ponderous. Menuhin’s 1952 Berlin Mendelssohn also disappoints beside his more agile 1958 version under Efrem Kurtz, but this, too, is no match for near-contemporaneous alternatives from Nathan Milstein and, notably, Jascha Heifetz.
Heifetz’s legendary RCA performances of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos (with Munch and Reiner) inform new traversals by Aaron Rosand, one of few living ‘grandi voci’ of the violin to display credible affinities with the great virtuoso traditions of the past. Rosand sounds magnificent; he offers Heifetz’s cadenza (based on Leopold Auer’s) in the Beethoven, and Joachim’s in the Brahms. Yet for all its nobility, finesse and virtuosity, Rosand’s Brahms doesn’t displace the Heifetz/Reiner/Chicago Symphony account, even after three decades in the catalogues. But for a more cogent, traditional Beethoven, none of the foregoing outclasses Henryk Szeryng’s Philips reading, which still affords deepest personal insights into the work. Rosand’s old-school playing is engrossing, but orchestral support from Derrick Inouye and the Monte Carlo Philharmonic has nothing on Haitink’s with the Concertgebouw. Michael Jameson