When I was in college in the mid-50s, we used to go in to Los Angeles to hear Jasha Heifetz in recital. We called him "The Iron Man" somewhat in derision, both for his playing style and for his rigid stance on stage while playing. While in awe of his technique, we preferred the gentler, more "romantic" playing of David Oistrakh and Arthur Grumiaux and such.
But as I grew out of my teenage romantic fixation, and as my own playing frustrated and disappointed me more and more, I learned to appreciate the heart and skill Heifetz put into his work. This recording represents the "summa," I believe, of Heifetz' life work on the instrument. I think he is the only violinist who ever fully understood this score. And nowhere in violin literature is his absolute tonal precision in higher position attacks and in rapid double stops more essential to the musical outcome.
Recently a music professional recommended the Oistrakh to me as "the best Sibelius ever," and on that comment I decided to give it another hearing, but I found it disappointing in several respects. Among other things, I was distressed by Oistrakh's sloppy upper position attacks, often having to slide onto the pitch after first hitting the string a tad too low or too high, not to mention his generally sloppy pitch in the faster sections, and his tendency to play the piece as if he thought he were doing something by Brahms--often playing a light bow up near the finger board when he should have been pressing down closer to the bridge. (See my review of that recording at the Amazon Sibelius/Oistrakh listing).
Aside from Heifetz' technical skill, I am deeply moved by the assertive vigor of his approach and by the dark brooding intensity he brings to the work. Where Oistrakh plays as if strolling on a warm moonlit evening around a quiet lake, Heifetz plays as under dark clouds threatening a storm. The Chicago Symphony, under the direction of Walter Hendl, plays in perfect concert with the solo, as an equal partner, so that together they produce an organic unity of wonderful effect.
I have not listened to every extant recording of the Sibelius concerto, but this one stands high above every other I have heard. In comparison with Heifetz the others sound weak and indecisive, if not outright ignorant of the intent of the work. After Sibelius it was no longer possible to write a serious "Romantic" violin concerto, though many have tried. After Heifetz it is not possible to play this work in the romantic manner, though many continue to try.
About the program: This disk also contains the Prokofiev No. 2 and the Glazunov. I have never liked very much anything by Prokofiev. He too often sounds to me like Erik Satie with an earache. This work is a prime example of his urgently discordant nonsense. In spite of Heifetz' best efforts, it does not reach me. The Glazunov is a milder piece, not a lot of depth, but pleasingly melodic in many places, except the fourth movement is almost as bad as the Prokofiev.