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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Toscanini Concert Edition
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Violin Concerto (1844)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Parsifal-Prelude and Good Friday Spell (1882)
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Toscanini
Recorded at Studio 8H NBC on 9th April 1944
NAXOS 8.110817 [48.09]



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Two of the most autocratic and demanding musicians of the recorded era join in a Studio 8H NBC performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto. Heifetz was to record the concerto commercially a few years later, in 1949, with Beecham and the RPO as well as the February 1959 traversal in Boston with Munch. The former was an edgy, rather unsympathetic affair and the latter not much better but both were immeasurably superior to the live Cantelli performance, a lamentable fight to the death won, if that’s the right word, by the violinist finishing at least a bar ahead of the orchestra. No such underhand manoeuvring afflicts the Toscanini performance but equally in this most exacting of all violin concertos (not necessarily technically or in terms of aristocratic or philosophical address but rather in matters of expressive nuance) there is little real musical satisfaction.

The confluence of febrile intensities exemplified by Toscanini and Heifetz works best in the inner movement; elsewhere their combustibility comes at too high a price. The passagework in the opening movement is very – sometimes viciously – fast. Even when Heifetz deigns to relax there is something insistent about his playing that militates against the subject matter. Of course much here is glittering and superb but equally and damagingly not all of it sounds Mendelssohnian. Some of his expressive pointing is fabulous but his energy and propulsion sound too daemonic for comfort. In the Andante though one appreciates his expressive lyricism – Heifetz was consistently sympathetic in this movement, which makes his virtuoso inclinations in the outer movements all the more regrettable - and the ardour of his playing is especially effective. Toscanini conducts here with shading and nuance and adds some audible groans of his own. Some overloading afflicts the finale - fortissimi timpani suffer badly - as does the sense of braying drive. I liked the way Toscanini convincingly brought out some string counter-themes but the final few bars are surely far too military. Not a performance that, except for the Andante, will live long in the memory.

The coupling is Parsifal. The grandeur of the music is certainly not enhanced by the cramped and problematical nature of the recording venue – whilst much here is spacious and noble and admirable much equally is lost. So all in all, with short playing time, even at superbudget price, this Toscanini Concert Edition comes with a caveat. The recorded sound is a problem, especially in Parsifal, and Heifetz and Toscanini are brusque and frequently showy in the Mendelssohn.

Jonathan Woolf



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