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Franck Violin Sonata in A major*
Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108**
Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47, "Kreutzer"***

Jascha Heifetz, violin / Artur Rubinstein*, William Kapell**, Benno Moiseiwitsch***, piano

Naxos Historical 8.110990

Benchmarks may be set down early in life. I first put on the CD player the Franck, which I love best of his works, and better than the other sonatas chosen here. It sounded marvellously "right" to me, as if it could go no other way....

Suddenly I realised why! This was the recording with which, as a small boy, I had been introduced to the work; it was one of a few sets of 78s which I played again and again, soon after it was originally released, whenever I visited a musical aunt, listening to them on her fine wind-up EMG Hand-Made Gramophone. (Another was Sibelius 5/Kajanus.)

The consummate skill and perfectionism of violinist Jascha Heifetz (1937-1951) is well displayed in these three sonatas (an atypical programme, such as he never gave live). No flaws and (so I believe) no tape or digital editing of the chosen takes? But there is an Achilles heel, picked up by Tully Potter (no-one knows more about violinists) in his perceptive notes.

Heifetz was an idealist but also something of an egotist. He mostly performed with accompanists of lowly status, and he rejected takes in which the violin was not as prominent as he liked to be (he seemed unaware, as are many others, that when the balance is wrong, musical listeners may, paradoxically, give more attention to the underdog, usually the 'accompanist' - read Gerald Moore about cellists in Am I too Loud?

The Brahms is my least favourite of his sonatas; it is decently done with Kapell, but not special. In the Beethoven Heifetz seemed only a little aware how often the violinist's role is to accompany the piano, though if you listen carefully you can hear Moiseiwitsch is giving a distinguished account of his part - I understand that on APR 5610 (1949 previously unpublished version) Moiseiwitsch's test pressings of the Kreutzer, in which the balance is superior to this one, are used; coupled with the 3rd Beethoven concerto. (I wonder too how I would now find the first recording of the Kreutzer which I got to know, probably around the same time as the Franck. I remember it because of the oddity of Ricardo Odnosopoff's name, playing with Schneiderhan, and its being exciting.)

Can any readers put me right about my nostalgic memories?

But I found the Franck a joy, and Rubinstein is well balanced - I will return to it whenever I hear a less satisfactory modern account, and those aren't rare.

And this is another of Mark Obert-Thorn's reliable remasterings of historical recordings for Naxos (he used Moiseiwitsch's treasured test pressings of the Beethoven, which are less ill-balanced than some other versions). Definitely worth purchasing by Heifetz enthusiasts, and especially for the Franck, which should delight everyone.


© Peter Grahame Woolf