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Len Mullenger:

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, op. 61.
Johannes BRAHMS
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major, op. 77.
Jascha Heifetz - NBC Symphony Orchestra - Arturo Toscanini (Beethoven)
Jascha Heifetz - Boston Symphony Orchestra - Serge Koussevitsky (Brahms)
recorded 11th March 1940 (Beethoven) in Studio 8H, New York & 11th April 1939 (Brahms) from Symphony Hall, Boston
Naxos 8.110936 [76.31] AAD

Crotchet    Amazon UK

This is a disc in Naxos's historical series of great violinists. Both performances here are superb and the question of whether this disc is good value depends on the quality of the recordings. Heifetz recorded both works commercially more than once and other recordings of his are available, albeit at a higher price. Indeed the current performances are also available on other labels, and so there is substantial competition. There are issues on Biddulph, Pearl and RCA which also hold these performances.

So what we have here are two famous performances played immaculately by a violinist at the very height of his powers, issued at a bargain price with fully comprehensive notes on both works and the artists, together with a brief history of the performances themselves.

Both concertos sound, subject to the limitations of the then technology, absolutely first rate, and the transfers (done by Marc Obert-Thorn) whilst not in the Dutton class, are much clearer and better than the other more expensive issues which are available. Certainly if you wish to purchase these performances, this is the disc to go for.

When they were recorded, Jascha Heifetz was universally recognised as the finest violinist in the world, and up until then had made most of his concerto recordings in England with Sir Thomas Beecham and the young John Barbirolli. His recording company, RCA, decided at the end of the 1930's that Heifetz should be recorded with the great American Orchestras, and apart from one or two issues (with Sir Malcolm Sargent) nearly all of his concerto recordings followed this strategy up until his death in 1987. RCA used the services of their contracted Orchestras in New York, Boston and Chicago, and, with a few exceptions, their respective conductors Toscanini, Munch and Reiner.

I would say that to my ears, the Beethoven is a slightly better recording than the Brahms, but there is not much in it. Indeed by the time you have settled down to listen, the 78 rpm sound quality is quite acceptable and you can enjoy the wonderful playing without any great distraction.

On the subject of cadenzas, these recordings give you a chance to sample something out of the ordinary. In the Beethoven, Kreisler uses the cadenza written by Heifetz's teacher, Leopold Auer in the first movement. In the second movement we hear the link from the slow movement to the finale as written by Joachim, and the cadenza proper for the finale was a mixture written by Auer, Joachim, with further modifications by the soloist.

I urge you to buy this issue - it is more than worthwhile hearing in its own right, and in such relatively good sound at such a low price it is unbeatable.

John Phillips



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