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Jascha Heifetz: The Legendary Los Angeles Concerts
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin and Cello in A minor, Op.102 (1887) [29:59]
Johan HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Passacaglia (after Handel) for Violin and Cello (1893) [6:21]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806) [37:47]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Humoresque in G flat major, Op.101 No.7, B187 (1894) [3:19]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Habanera, Spanish Dance, Op. 21 No. 2 (1878) [3:38]
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra / Leonard Bernstein (Brahms)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra / Zubin Mehta (Beethoven)
Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra / Donald Voorhees (Dvořák; Sarasate)
rec. live, 1 September 1963, Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles (Brahms; Halvorsen); 6 December 1964, opening of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles (Beethoven); 7 February 1950, Studio 6A, NBC Radio City, New York (Dvořák; Sarasate)
RHINE CLASSICS RH-004 [45:12 + 50:08]

The Los Angeles concerts of 1963-1964 were given at the Hollywood Bowl, in which Heifetz and Piatigorsky played the Brahms Double with Leonard Bernstein, and at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where the violinist essayed the Beethoven with Zubin Mehta. Neither concert has apparently been issued before.

The commercial recording of the Double made by the two string players is very well known, as is the even more visceral 78 rpm set Heifetz made with Feuermann. There was always something of an air of competitiveness between Heifetz and Feuermann, both supreme technicians, whereas Heifetz’s friendship with his fellow Russian Piatigorsky was always more free and congenial. Some of the most touching photographs of Heifetz show him truly unbuttoned with “Grisha”. That said, one should not expect too many differences in interpretative alignment between this live reading with Bernstein and the earlier 1960 LP. The New York Philharmonic’s string tone is somewhat thin in the Coliseum-like vastness of the Hollywood Bowl, whilst the string players’ tones can be dry. The cellist takes a little time fully to warm up—though the recording has preserved the tuning up—but once underway the rock-solid ensemble virtues, fostered after many years of chamber playing, shine through. Entries are biting, phrasing is brisk but not brusque, and give-and-take is largely exemplary. Those charismatic Heifetz slides are gleaming yet not brittle. With a typically stoic and unsentimentally voiced slow movement, vitiated only by very slight instability between soloists and orchestra, and a bracingly taut finale, this is a valuable addition to the discography. Note that audience applause does not figure on the track timing. So, track 4 is shown to last 7:50 but this is the music: applause and recalls bulk the track to 12 minutes.

The encore is announced by Heifetz as Halvorsen’s Passacaglia before someone—either in the orchestra or Piatigorsky—reminds him of the origins of the piece, so he deadpans, Jack Benny-style, “Oh, thank you…Handel-Halvorsen” to laughter. Heifetz’s recording of this with William Primrose was his best, though he also recorded it commercially with Piatigorsky. Live, they cut and splice, textually amending it. At one point an aeroplane booms impressively overhead, half drowning the players. Heifetz was not an impulsive player but maybe this unsettled him as the performance ends in a rather vulgar bit of showmanship, far less impressive than their studio reading. Naturally the audience goes wild.

Heifetz’s Beethoven Concerto, like so much else in his repertoire, remained interpretatively consistent throughout his performing career. Mehta proves a diligent accompanist, directing the LA Philharmonic adeptly. Once again tuning is retained and this succeeds in evoking the concert atmosphere. The performance, consonant with the recordings with Toscanini and Munch, is buoyant, tensile and burnished. Heifetz plays the Auer-Heifetz cadenzas, though it should be noted that his violin is set further back in the balance than had been the case in the Hollywood Bowl, something that would not have pleased him had he heard it.

There are two bonus tracks, previously released, that come from the Bell Telephone Hour with Donald Voorhees conducting in Radio City, New York in February 1950. The Dvořák is tightly coiled, cloaked and hooded, full of inimitable tonal splendour and not remotely relaxed, whilst the Sarasate Habanera is suave and bewitching. Cembal d’amour once issued this (CD-113) but their transfer is cloudy and palpably inferior to this one.

The booklet has a nice biographical essay on the violinist by John Maltese and John Anthony Maltese, extracted from their biography. There are also some excellently reproduced photographs from the concerts under review and the rehearsals for them.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank



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