Some fine - and not so fine - versions of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto
There seems no end to the hold the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto has on the music world: Any fiddler worth a date at Carnegie Hall has put his views of the work on record. Many have done it twice (and Itzhak Perlman three times!).
Certain fine recordings of the work have vanished to make room for newer offerings. Yet, one longtime classic has remained in the catalog, Jascha Heifetz's with the Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner conductor. It has just been recycled onto RCA's increasingly interesting Red Seal .5 Series of half-speed mastered sonic reconstructions of venerable performances recorded in the early days of stereo. (ARP1-4567).
It is a noble, grandiose performance, with Heifetz at his unique fire-and-ice best. It is sometimes hard to realize that until Heifetz, the sort of technically dazzling, everything-in-perfect-order playing to which we have become accustomed was not the norm. This record is vivid testament to Heifetz's unique skills. Reiner was always a sympathetic partner to the violinist; the sound, fine in its day, is dated mainly by the prominence of tape hiss.
The other side of this disk is devoted to Heifetz and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Charles Munch conducting, as they zip through the Mendelssohn with panache, brio, and mercurial glee. In short, this incarnation of these two performances (recorded not quite two years apart, '57 and '59) is a document of a great violinist, two great orchestras and conductors, and a standard of performance that is much rarer a quarter century later.
That said, the Gidon Kremer reading much later of the score, with Lorin Maazel conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, is an extraordinary accomplishment (DG Digital 2532 001). Kremer listens, takes chances, and is possessed of such a strong technique that he can try just about anything on the spur of the moment and succeed technically even if he fails interpretively. This may describe a whimsical artist; to the contrary, his choices come out of the music rather than the ego.
This performance - fresh, impulsive, alive to exquisite nuance - breathes new life into a tradition-bound score. One can hear the great Russian lineage of players from which Kremer descends in just about everything he does here. Maazel is in somewhat remote form, but the orchestra plays brilliantly, and the sound is dazzling. Tchaikovsky's ''Serenade melancholique'' Op. 26 is the filler.
Vladimir Spivakov's records have shown him to be a patrician player, but his account of the Tchaikovsky finds him somewhat under form. Most distressingly, intonation sags when least expected, and there seems to be very little he wants to say in this music. Seiji Ozawa conducts the Philharmonic Orchestra with care, but his work sounds dutiful and merely accompanimental. The ''Capprico Italien'' - a generous filler - lacks the sunny fire implicit in the score. (Angel Digital DS-37649.)
Finally, Kyung-Wha Chung has rerecorded the Tchaikovsky with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony (London Digital LDR-71058). It is a curiously low-key, almost uninteresting affair, from an artist who has consistently given us fine - in some cases exceptional - performances on record. The sound is handsome, her tone is consistently engaging, but there is more passion and commitment in her earlier performance (now deleted) with Andre Previn. The flip side is devoted to the Mendelssohn, and here she shimmers and sparkles, with Dutoit matching her smile for smile.