Notes and Editorial Reviews
No performance of the Walton concerto could possibly be more authentic than that captured by this 1950 recording. The work was commissioned by Heifetz, and suited his style and musical personality to perfection. His playing is technically superlative, gloriously passionate, virile and exciting. Walton was an admirable conductor of his own work at this period, and he and the vintage Philharmonia are inspired partners for Heifetz. The sound is very good for its period, cleaner and clearer than on the two previous British LP editions, but with a very slight background hum now discernable.
-- Gramophone [3/1989]
"There are few enough American string concertos in the repertoire, the Barber Violin Concerto of
1940 obliterating the two fine ones of Walter Piston (1939, 1960, recently acclaimed on the Naxos recording) or the later Bernstein Symposium taken up by younger violinists. Gruenberg here would seem to have emerged as a kind of Hollywood film-writer who got lucky with Heifetz. Well, no. In fact, consulting my sub-Grove as it were, one finds Gruenberg was part of the Russian-Jewish diaspora and although settling in America at two, he studied in Berlin and Vienna, and with Busoni for piano no less. He wrote only this one concerto and two violin sonatas and only smaller pieces for his own instrument, and in fact his affinity for violinists is evinced in this work.
The directions are English to a fault: 'Moderately' for the opening movement. The rising figure which promises much delivers something. Through the first movement we are subjected to tiny jazz and cowbell inflections, as if Copland and Virgil Thomson's prairies are only a session away. Half-way though the first movement a curious pre-echo of the happy heart theme of Korngold's Violin Concerto finale emerges. Perhaps Gruenberg had been watching Korngold films. One can only recall Korngold's riposte to Max Steiner's quip about Korngold getting worse and Steiner better. 'That's easy, Steiner ... you have been stealing from me and I have been stealing from you.' Gruenberg too, perhaps. Touches of marimba at around 7:40 suggest this. Vienna, either recalled or refracted through Korngold, figures highly in this concerto.
-- The second movement, despite its 'With simplicity and warmth' tag doesn't really relax into lyricism. Despite Gruenberg's attempts at popularity, the dark marimba opens flickering into a film-noire dream world, edged with nightmare and harrowed magic. Again, the themes seem memorable for as long as they last, but they lack the distinct cut of genius. Still, this movement edges pretty near to permanently lodging. But long before the finale the movement hits the high trail again at 4.40. It's quite unbelievable. It's as though Gruenberg couldn't trust to his talent and lets us in for a banal hoe-down, attractive enough in fact but by 6.22 when it calms down one is getting stereo vision from mono. What Tully Potter has termed an attempt at a popular concerto has in fact turned out a damaged confection of true impulse and lobba-de-lot-on, an Americana pizza with candy. The finale 'Lively and with good humour' following attacca isn't quite VE Day won by Ronald Reagan, but with a piano honky-tonking cheek by jowl with Heifetz we seem somewhere off Auden's 52nd Street (and that very different concerto/symphony of Bernstein's after Auden). It's tuneful though, cheeking us with Gershwin near-quotes, as elsewhere. One sequence has the horsy lumbering plains evoked by string players on the bridge (soon overtaken by the piano's new glissandi) - a ghost ride. And yes, there's whips, perhaps used with real point. Good humour? This was 1943. The premature celebrations seem forced. The sound, apparently endemic for all RCA/San Francisco recordings, has a suitable brashness, though its fierceness has been well-tamed and Heifetz caught beautifully."
-- Simon Jenner, MusicWeb International
Review of Naxos reissue
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin in B minor by Sir William Walton
Jascha Heifetz (Violin)
Sir William Walton
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1938-1939; England
Date of Recording: 07/1950
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studios, London
Length: 27 Minutes 20 Secs.
Concerto for Violin, Op. 47 by Louis Gruenberg
Jascha Heifetz (Violin)
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1943-1944; USA
Date of Recording: 12/17/1945
Venue: War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco
Length: 37 Minutes 47 Secs.
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