On Disc: Jascha Heifetz’s Russian Violin Resounds in a Legacy CD Edition
103-CD box set celebrates the 110th anniversary of the violinist’s birth
Although it became cliché for critics to describe Heifetz as cold and inhuman, in fact, the violinist added something of his own that transformed his music making as profoundly as Fritz Kreisler’s charm and warmth informed his. It was a quest for perfection not of technique—a command of the music that lay directly in the notes of the score. This quest made demands not only on his own playing, but also on the musicians, orchestras, and conductors he played with. And making the music uniquely magical was the Heifetz heart, unknowable and perhaps with personal demons on the side, but always seething with passion and fire.
Asked about the influence of Heifetz in the 21st century, the French violinist Renaud Capuçon says, “We are all supposed to play more perfect than 60 or 70 years before. When you hear Heifetz, or the young Menuhin, it’s so amazing. After two notes, you can hear [their mastery]. It’s so authentic, so pure.”
Asked to explain the magnetic appeal, violinist Sherry Kloss says that Heifetz defined Russian soul. “He experienced the essence of his time,” she says. “They had revolution, they had pogroms, they had poverty, but they also had culture. They had brilliant composers, artists, they had devoted families, they had learning, they persevered. Their generation brought their magic across continents and transformed the ‘New World’ with the ‘Old World’ language.”
Many of these issues are discussed in the Malteses’ essay that weaves details of Heifetz’s personal life, including true-life stories and anecdotes, with the history and evaluation of his performing career, and even such minute details as the microphone placement Heifetz preferred in the recording studio.
Ultimately, in this set, the big role played in post-WWII times by the increasingly sophisticated packaging of the 78s, and then vinyl, is captured in the iconic covers that graphic designer Alex Steinweiss created during the 1940s and ’50s. They lose none of their impact now, even in small CD size. The original liner notes, despite being printed in sometimes impossibly small print, are another cultural resource that will provide hours of pleasure and reflection. Authored by a varied group that ranges from uncredited to prestigious names (from music critic Claudia Cassidy to composer Nicolas Slonimsky), the notes often include behind-the-scenes details and context, and, of course, critical praise about Heifetz.