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Jascha Heifetz. Never-before-published and rare live Recordings. Volume 3
Lionel Barrymore introduces Jascha Heifetz
Manuel PONCE (1882-1948)

Estrellita - transc. Heifetz
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major K219 Turkish (1775)
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 47 (1903 rev. 1905)
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)

Intermezzo (Garden Scene) from Much Ado About Nothing (1920)
Riccardo DRIGO (1846-1930)

Valse Bluette – Air de Ballet trans Heifetz
Jack Benny and Jascha Heifetz discuss and perform To a wild rose by Edward MacDowell
Jascha Heifetz, violin with
New York Philharmonic/Efrem Kurtz (Mozart)
New York Philharmonic/Dmitri Mitropoulos (Sibelius)
The Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/Donald Voorhees (Ponce)
Emanuel Bay, piano (Korngold, Drigo, Jack Benny-Heifetz)
Recorded 1940-1951


Cembal d’Amour has now reached Volume Three in its series of live Heifetz material. It collates material recorded between c.1940 and 1951 of which a part has previously been available. The Mozart Concerto featured on a Rococo LP 2074 and the Sibelius can be found on Music and Arts CD766. The delightful Korngold turned up on another Rococo LP, 2071, whilst the Heifetz-Jack Benny comedy routine made a limited appearance on a Strad double LP devoted to rare Heifetz discs. So whilst little is new for the devoted collector, almost all will be new to the general listener and much will be of interest, even though much is ancillary to the main body of Heifetz’s extensive discography.

The disc is topped and tailed by speech items. The lip-smacking tones of Lionel Barrymore introduce Heifetz in a Concert Hall broadcast, followed immediately by the Ponce-Heifetz Estrellita (presumably from that same concert). In a syrupy orchestral arrangement Heifetz lavishes some succulent Palm Court expression on a piece he made famous for fiddle players in his own arrangement. I would however prefer the two commercial recordings – the Achron accompanied 1928 or the post War disc with Emanuel Bay. The Mozart A major Concerto features three times in Heifetz’s commercial discography – with Barbirolli in 1934, Sargent in 1951 and in the self conducted 1963 performance. His Mozart is, for many, an acquired taste – the nadir being the Sinfonia Concertante with William Primrose – but he was not always so indifferent and crude. With Efrem Kurtz conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1947 Heifetz constantly inflects the solo line with expressive shadings and intensely accented notes. There is slight damage to the acetates in places but not enough to mar the bewitching fascination of his bowing in the passage around 6.20 or the way he gives life and colour to paragraphs. It’s brisk, certainly, but not unfeeling. The slow movement is again flowing – a minute and a half quicker than the Barbirolli traversal of thirteen years before – and there are times when Heifetz is curt with phrase endings. I admired the series of excellently employed diminuendi in the middle of the movement but an air of calculation hangs over the playing that it’s not easy to dismiss. And so with the finale which is vibrantly played but – to me – rather too flashy for comfort. This has nothing to do with ease of execution – it’s rather more to do with the sense of rightness that informs the playing of such as Grumiaux and Szeryng in this repertoire and which I find generally lacking in much of Heifetz’s Mozart.

The same could not easily be said of his Sibelius. We now have available the long rumoured Stokowski/Philadelphia performance of 1934 as well as the Beecham/LPO of the following year and the Hendl/Chicago of 1959. Familiar and strong, intensely vibrant and superbly bowed this is Heifetz in exterior mode, rather than the introspective white-toned tremulousness other players impart. He is tested nonetheless by the passagework and rarely falters (a few split notes and one or two slight intonational buckles aside). Mitropoulos is granitic and involved, adding immeasurably to the colossal drama and whilst this is not the tidiest performance imaginable, and there are coughs and splutters aplenty from the audience, nothing derails the players. Full of depth in the slow movement Heifetz’s razor sharp rhythmic impetus galvanizes the finale, the harmonics negotiated with panache, bowing excellent, the orchestra glowering from the depths behind him. Splendid to have this to add to his Sibelius on disc.

After which the temperature is lowered via Korngold’s attractively simple "Garden Scene" (the Intermezzo from Much Ado About Nothing), which he recorded commercially with Bay in 1947 and via Drigo’s Valse Bluette, which finds Emanuel Bay in characteristically po-faced mood. The disc ends with some Jack Benny and if you think Mordecai Shehori of Cembal d’Amour more than slightly eccentric in opening a Heifetz disc with Lionel Barrymore and closing it with Jack Benny, there’s more than a little sensitive historical reclamation here. Because this is precisely how Heifetz would have been introduced on the innumerable radio shows he performed – by Barrymore or whoever – and if you don’t like Jack Benny or want to hear what he and Heifetz do to MacDowell’s To a wild rose, well, shame on you.

Jonathan Woolf

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