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Jascha Heifetz. Never before released and rare live recordings. Volume Two
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Violin Concerto in D Major op. 35 (1878)
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor Op. 63 (1935)
Jascha Heifetz, violin
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/William Steinberg (Tchaikovsky: Hollywood Bowl 21 March 1949)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitsky (Prokofiev: Concert Hall broadcast 2 April 1949)


Volume Two in Cembal d’Amour’s Heifetz series – the third will be reviewed shortly – brings together two Russian masterpieces in live performances from 1949. Both were or became staples of Heifetz’s repertoire. In the Tchaikovsky he gradually came to eclipse the supposed hegemony of Mischa Elman and in the Prokofiev, of which he gave the American premiere with this orchestra and conductor twelve years before this performance, he immediately established a commanding profile. His assurance was in this respect as established in the Second Concerto as Szigeti’s had been in the First – I don’t believe either violinist essayed "the other’s" concerto.

Heifetz recorded the Tchaikovsky three times commercially; all were made in London, the first with Barbirolli in 1935 and post-War twice with Sargent, in 1947 and 1961. Here he is recorded in the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by William Steinberg, who applies some nice touches of metrical freedom to the opening paragraphs of the first movement – and cultivating some attractive wind playing in the process. There is a sense of incipient tension to the playing and despite the occasional acetate crunch the sound is acceptable. Things are proceeding well, the cadenza and subsequent fearsome arpeggios surmounted with practised ease, when Heifetz suffers a near catastrophic couple of bars (around 14.33), which threaten to disable his performance – very unusual to hear him come adrift like this. That he manages to retain momentum and concentration in the conclusion of the movement and in the slow movement, played with rapt simplicity, is testament to his unflappable professionalism. The finale is good but can’t really stand comparison with his first commercial set, fourteen years earlier, with Barbirolli.

He gave that American premiere of the Prokofiev in December 1937, recording it with the same forces, the Boston Symphony and Koussevitsky three days later. Over twenty years later he was to re-record it, again in Boston, this time with Charles Munch conducting, and the performance probably better and more widely known of the two. So it’s good to have this temporally equidistant recording – one that sites Heifetz over a decade into his association with the work. Characteristically he and Koussevitsky are tension filled and fast, with blended woodwind especially notable. Admirers of Oistrakh’s way with the slow movement will doubtless recoil from Heifetz’s vaunting and progressively animated momentum here, over strong active pizzicato support and peppery wind solos but most will be won over by Heifetz’s glorious string cantilena at the beginning of the finale. Koussevitsky brings orchestral colour to the fore here and together they drive to a dramatic conclusion.

Other companies are bringing out an arsenal of live Heifetz material – Doremi in particular is issuing Bell Telephone Hour and V-Disc material in profusion – but Cembal d’Amour has now staked a strong claim to propagating Heifetz’s live legacy in a well-stocked market. Whatever the particular merits of individual performances, you can never have too much Heifetz on the shelves.

Jonathan Woolf

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