The development of the great violinists from fresh young artists to profound musical thinkers can be charted through their recorded interpretations. Nathaniel Vallois uses his time in lockdown to examine changes in the playing style of some of the best-known names


Jascha Heifetz

The following is an extract from an article in The Strad’s December 2020 ‘Willemotte’ Stradivari issueTo read in full, click here to subscribe and login. The December 2020 digital magazine and print edition are on sale now.

Jascha Heifetz embraced a glittering strand of contemporary compositions perfectly tailored to his temperament and skills. Walton’s and Korngold’s violin concertos and Prokofiev’s Second, among many other works alongside his own arrangements, brought further lustre to his aura.

In other ways, Heifetz himself scrupulously avoided change: he devised chiselled interpretations of his vast repertoire at a relatively early stage of his career and largely abided by them for decades to follow. However, the temperament fuelling these interpretations did change and his always strong personality came into ever sharper, even fierce, focus.

Read: The darker side of Heifetz the autocratic teacher

Read: Evolving interpretations: The long and winding road

Read: How did David Oistrakh’s interpretations evolve over his lifetime?

His earlier pre-war playing suggests some Kreisler influence: mellifluous, propulsive to be sure, but less hard-driven than it would become, with trademark portamentos gentler in spirit. In new versions from the 1950s and 1960s of a wide range of music, his tempos are either remarkably similar or, most often, even faster. Details of fingering, portamentos and phrasing are nearly identical, but the glowing sheen has been replaced by a harder, even abrasive, edge.