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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]

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the violinist Jascha Heifetz, 10th December, to be precise. What could be more fitting than the release of this 2 CD set from Rhine Classics of the Legendary Los Angeles Concerts which took place in 1963-64. As far as I’m aware, they are here making their first appearance on silver disc. The Brahms and Halvorsen, from a Hollywood Bowl concert, I’ve known from YouTube, but the Beethoven Concerto with Zubin Mehta has never previously been available. Both concerts are welcome additions to the Heifetz discography, together with two bonus tracks featuring encores culled from the Bell Telephone Hour with Donald Voorhees, dated 7 February 1950.

In addition to this live Hollywood Bowl performance, Heifetz made two commercial recordings of the Brahms Double Concerto - in 1939 with Emanuel Feuermann and in 1960 with Gregor Piatigorsky, his partner here. All three accounts are trenchant and pack a punch. Tempos, which are almost identical in each case, are brisk, yet technique is at all times flawless. Heifetz and Piatigorsky worked together on a regular basis, and I’ve always sensed a rapport and shared purpose between them. Both are on an equal footing technically, so it comes as no surprise that this live airing is a high-voltage account. Bernstein’s sympathetic contributions and like-minded vision add to the success. In the opening movement the soloists dig in and articulation is crisp and incisive, with complete unanimity of ensemble. Their lines appear seamless, and at times it’s difficult to perceive when one player ends and the other begins. In the beautiful slow movement they caress the phrases, and Heifetz’s silken tone is breathtaking. The ‘gypsy rondo’ finale is lively and vivacious. The orchestra has engaging presence throughout.

We are treated to an encore, introduced by the violinist. Heifetz and Piatigorksy offer a stunning rendition of the Handel/Halvorsen Passacaglia, a virtuosic tour-de-force which certainly puts the performers through their paces. The two were to take the work into the studio several weeks later. This was probably a trial run, though Heifetz had made a commercial recording of it with the violist William Primrose in May 1941. There are a couple of slight differences between this performance and the later commercial recording. One of the midway variations is cut, and in the Molto energetico variation near the end Heifetz, for some unknown reason, doesn’t play the impressive ascending scales, substituting chords instead. Nevertheless, it’s an impressively stunning account which gains the enthusiastic applause of the audience.

Aside from two commercial recordings of the Beethoven Violin Concerto set down in 1940 and 1955 with Toscanini and Munch respectively, one or two live performances have also done the rounds. This one, deriving from the opening concert of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on 6 December 1964 with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic is a newcomer. Heifetz favours a swift tempi for the opening movement, yet this in no way detracts from the monumental vision of the performance. It is notable for its refinement and classical poise. The violinist’s silvery tone, flawless intonation and matchless virtuosity are both memorable and authoritative. Mehta is wonderful in the way he instinctively shapes the music, and there is a powerful meeting of minds. Heifetz employs the Auer/Heifetz cadenzas. The Larghetto is nicely paced and there’s a pervasive sense of intimacy. The finale is imbued with energy and gusto and brings the concerto to a thrilling conclusion.

The two bonus tracks, of short encore pieces by Dvořák and Sarasate, with the Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra under Donald Voorhees date from 1950, and are in remarkably good sound. Each is played in true Heifetz fashion with subtlety of nuance and inflection. The Habanera is a particular delight and one to which he brings his inimitable violinistic arsenal.

With access to pristine radio masters in the form of reel-to-reel tapes, these valuable audio documents have been expertly restored (24bit/96Khz high quality remastering process) and emerge warmly defined and vibrant, having been given a new lease of life by Emilio Pessina. I’m pleased that the soloist’s pre-performance tuning and applause has been retained, as this creates some of the atmosphere of the live event. A fifteen-page booklet, containing a biographical portrait of the violinist, is provided in English by John Anthony Maltese. There is an added bonus in the form of some beautifully produced black and white photographs of the musicians, including several I have never seen before.

Stephen Greenbank



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