Saturday, 28 October 2017

Jascha Heifetz plays Bach

The three sonatas and three partitas that Bach wrote for solo violin are extraordinary works. Apart from anything else, they are extremely difficult to play since the violin is not at home with chords, accompaniments to melodies, and fugues. One boggles to imagine what violinists made of it in Bach's time since, even now and post- Paganini, the pieces pose real challenges; above all, the challenge to play them well so that the violin makes agreeable sounds.

I have been re-listening to the six works as played by Jascha Heifetz in 1952. For those for whom such things matter, no one can accuse Heifetz of not playing on a “period instrument”, since he would have been using either his del Gesù or Stradivari violins, with his usual three gut strings. As well as being a supreme violinist, Heifetz was always an extremely tasteful player, and these works suit him down to the ground. Everyone and his dog has recorded the works over the decades, but Heifetz (and Milstein) still stand out as top violinists and musicians in these works, be it the chaconne of the second suite, the fugues of the three sonatas, the adagios, or the rapidissimo movements. I listened to Heifetz as re-incarnated by Pristine Audio in extremely good ambient stereo; for the first time in these recordings, Heifetz's unique silky tone comes over with impressive results. A three star version of these works, and thank you Pristine for the impressive restoration of Heifetz in his prime.

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