Heifetz Early Victor Recordings, 1917-18
All the recordings listed above were made when Heifetz was still a young man, and they show that in his earlier years he was a very different artist from the virtuoso we know so well from his many post-war records. He always possessed a somewhat fast, tight vibrato, but his tone had a more rounded quality in earlier days, and he played with more warmth and spontaneity.
Heifetz's first recordings were made in his native Russia in 1911, when he was only ten years old. In 1912 he played abroad for the first time and at the height of the Russian revolution he and his family travelled to New York, where he made a triumphant American debut in October 1917. Two weeks later he embarked on a lengthy series of Victor recordings, a selection of which are reproduced on LAB015. All the pieces were short, as was the custom then, and some of the arrangements are terrible, as was also the norm. In the more brilliant pieces Heifetz shows the extraordinary virtuosity which was always to be a strong feature of his playing. His accounts of Sarasate's Introduction and tarantelle and Zapateado rival those of Sarasate's own cut versions, and Paganini's Moto perpetuo is an extraordinary
The recordings on the other discs listed above date from between 1934 and 1937. All the seven works with Sir John Barbirolli as conductor were comparatively recently issued by EMI on a two-LP set and reviewed by me in October 1987. A comparison of the transfers reveals that EMI, no doubt working from the original masters, were able to produce a more natural sound than Biddulph, where there is more presence, but a slightly hollow, compressed sound of a kind which used to be called 'gramophoney'.
All the performances are quite superlative. Heifetz and Barbirolli clearly enjoyed a good rapport, and if there is occasional untidiness in the orchestral playing it always has tremendous spirit. For the 1987 review I compared Heifetz's 1937 account of the Tchaikovsky Concerto with his early post-war EMI recording on LP with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Walter Susskind (nla), and the 1957 recording with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (RCA (CD) RD85933). In his later two recordings the familiar brilliant tone and superlative technique are much in evidence, and if the playing is not exactly cold the interpretation seems to have been composed before the event. In 1937 the tone was warmer, and there was more heart, more spontaneity.
These qualities are apparent elsewhere. The Glazunov Concerto is given a beautifully lyrical, joyous reading (some fuzziness in the sound during the second movement was also present in EMI's transfer, suggesting a fault in the original recording), and the Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski concertos have superb spirit and verve in addition to superlative virtuosity. Heifetz's premiere recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Beecham is probably still unsurpassed. It has tremendous drama and strength in the first movement, there is elegance and beauty of phrase in the slow one, and the finale has a superb, strutting vitality. Heifetz and Koussevitzky combine to great effect in the Prokofiev, where the first movement has a particular tensile strength and glittering virtuosity. Warmth of tone and feeling enter Heifetz's playing of the second movement, and the finale has plenty of punch and pawky wit.
Heifetz and Arpad Sandor play the early, somewhat sprawling Strauss Sonata with great energy and sense of purpose, but the gem of the collection for me is Franck's Sonata, where Heifetz is joined by Artur Rubinstein. Here is richly communicative playing of high sensitivity—beautifully poised and elegant in the first movement, and strong, impulsive and ardent elsewhere. A feast of great violin playing awaits the listener to these four discs.'