HEIFETZ: Transcriptions for Violin and Piano

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Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987)

Transcriptionsfor Violin and Piano

Jascha Heifetz was born in Vilnius in 1901, the son of a violinist,his first teacher from the age of three. Further lessons from Elias Malkinenabled him, by the age of six, to play Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto andat the age of nine he was able to enter St Petersburg Conservatory, eventuallyto join the class of Leopold Auer. He made his international debut in Berlin in 1912, later in the same year appearing as soloist in Tchaikovsky's ViolinConcerto with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Nikisch. In 1917he left Russia for a concert tour in the United States, making his Americandebut at Carnegie Hall and his first commercial recordings, and eight yearslater became an American citizen. He made his first return to Russia in 1934 and for many years he continued an international career of great brillianceand distinction, earning a legendary reputation as a virtuoso, as well as forhis performances of chamber music with musicians of similar fame and calibre,such as the pianist Artur Rubinstein, the cellists Emanuel Feuermann and GregorPiatigorsky, and the viola-player William Primrose. In his later years he taughtat the University of South California in Los Angeles, where the Heifetz Chairof Music was established for him, giving master-classes, but with relativelyfew pupils. He gave his final recital and made hislast recordings in 1972. He died in 1987.

As a player Heifetz did much to develop the techniquesof violin-playing, influencing many younger players through his virtuosity, hisagility and speed in performance, the purity of his intonation, his handling ofthe bow and his use of vibrato, and providing a standard against which otherperformances of standard concert repertoire might be measured. He introducednew concertos, some written specially for him. This contemporary concertorepertoire included concertos by William Walton, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, ErichKorngold and Miklos Rozsa. At the same time he was responsible for a large numberof transcriptions for violin and piano, many of which remain in standardvirtuoso repertoire.

In 1923 Heifetz acquired the instrument that he preferred,made in 1742 by the last of the family, Giuseppe Guarneri, known as Guarneridel Jes??. He also had a Tononi instrument and instruments by AntonioStradivari. His apparent impassivity in performance concealed strong powers ofconcentration and interpretations that were carefully planned, with everyattention to detail.

The present recording opens with a transcriptionof Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 2, a work written in 1843 and dedicatedoriginally to Chopin's Scottish admirer Miss Jane Wilhelmina Stirling. The longmelodic lines of the Nocturne, with only the lightest addition of double-stopping,are in marked contrast to the energy of the Russian-Jewish composer AlexanderKrein's Dance No. 4, with its suggestions of the kletzmer style that hadbeen part of Krein's family background.

'Jeanie with the light brown hair', by the American composerStephen Foster, author also of the words of what has all the familiarity of along-established folk-song, is treated with idiomatic assurance. Again acontrast is provided in the famous arrangement of the much-transcribed Flightof the bumble-bee, taken from Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of TsarSaltan, where it serves as an entr'acte illustrating the activities ofPrince Guidon, disguised as a bee to sting revenge on his wicked aunts. Gluck'sDance of the Blessed Spirits, from his opera Orpheus and Eurydice isgiven with all the serenity that the Elysian fields demand, as the legendaryOrpheus seeks to retrieve his beloved Euridice from the Underworld.

Prokofiev's idiosyncratic musical language isrevealed in the transcription of the March from his opera The Love forThree Oranges, a work based on a play by Gozzi in which the melancholyPrince is the victim of a curse that forces him to seek the love of the title.

The perky little March is a recurrent feature in the work. Debussy's Prelude?á l'apr?¿s-midi d'un faune, based on Mallarme, created by Nijinsky andnotably danced by Serge Lifar in a succeeding generation, is remarkablyconvincing in violin transcription, which captures the essence of the piece.

The Italian-Jewish composer MarioCastlenuovo-Tedesco found himself obliged in 1939 to leave his native countryand settle in the United States, where, like many others, he found an outlet inthe composition of music for the cinema. Heifetz commissioned a violin concertofrom him and his Tango is a version of the composer's own arrangementderived from his setting of a song from Shakespeare's play A Winter's Tale forthe shepherdess Mopsa. A measure of calm is restored with the traditional negro Deep River.

The angular musical idiom of Prokofiev isimmediately evident in the excerpt from his ballet Romeo and Juliet,taken from the scene of the Masks, where Romeo first sees Juliet. RichardStrauss's early Stimmungsbilder, Op. 9, a set of piano moodpictures provides, in the first of these pieces, the evocative Auf stillenWaldespfad (Along the silent forest path), which makes an admirable singingviolin piece. The breadth of Heifetz's taste is demonstrated by the following Aope da fogueira, a version of a Prelude by the versatile Braziliancomposer and violinist Flausino Rodrigues Vale, characterized by its continueddouble-stopping.


by Isaac Albeniz is an arrangement of a piano piecefrom his Suite Espanola, splendidly captured in its essence in thetranscription, with its opening suggestion of the guitar and its contrasts ofmood. It is followed here by one of Heifetz's most famous transcriptions, hisversion of the Romanian composer and violinist Grigoraş Dinicu's lively Horastaccato. Debussy's take on ragtime, Golliwogg's Cake-walk, is shownin a new light in the violinand piano arrangement of a piano piece that had formed part of the composer's Children'sCorner, written for his young daughter.

Heifetz recorded the Hungarian composer Erno Dohnanyi's Serenadefor violin, viola and cello with William Primrose and Emanuel Feuermann.

Less familiar is the Romanza from the Suite in F sharp minor. It leads toan arrangement of one of the most popular works by the Mexican Manuel Ponce, echoes of which are heard in the same composer's violin concerto. The recording endswith one of Heifetz's arrangements of songs from George Gershwin's black opera Porgyand Bess, 'A woman is a sometime thing', into which he injects something ofthe drama, as he develops and varies the material.

Keith Anderson
Disc: 1
Porgy and Bess, Act I: A woman is a sometime thing
1 Nocturne No. 16 in E flat major, Op. 55, No. 2
2 Dance No. 4
3 Jeanie with the light brown hair
4 The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Op. 57: Flight of the Bum
5 Orfeo ed Euridice, Act II: Dance of the Blessed Sp
6 The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Op. 33bis: No. 3
7 Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune
8 Tango, Op. 24b
9 Deep River
10 Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64: Masks
11 Stimmungsbilder, Op. 9: No. 1. Auf stillen Waldesp
12 Prelude No. 15, "Ao pe da fogueira"
13 Suite espanola No. 1, Op. 47: No. 3. Sevilla
14 Hora staccato (Hora spiccato)
15 Children’s Corner: No. 6 Golliwogg’s Cake-Walk
16 Suite in F sharp minor, Op. 19: III. Romanza
17 Estrellita (My little star)
18 Porgy and Bess, Act I: A woman is a sometime thing
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