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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [28:42]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 5 in A major, K219 Turkish (1775) [25:19]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35 (1945) [21:58]
Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Efrem Kurtz
rec. November-December 1947, Town Hall, NYC (Mussorgsky); March 1947, live at Carnegie Hall, NYC (Mozart, Korngold)

It’s a little confusing reading Andrew Rose’s producer’s note. He says that none of these recordings were intended for release but concludes that the Mussorgsky was issued by RCA in 1948. The only notable thing, therefore, about Pictures – which is the very familiar Horowitz studio recording of November and December 1947 - is that the copies come from an alternative source to RCA’s reissue. It seems that so superior was its sound quality that the set was assumed not to be the released session but the unpublished and lost session of 15 May 1947. So, what we have therefore is a better sound quality to a well-known set and better sound quality for the companion Heifetz recordings than has been heard before.

The Heifetz brace come from a single concert given on 30 March 1947 with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra directed by Efrem Kurtz. The Mozart was last encountered by me on a Cembal’d’amour disc (CD118) which preserved scratches and other detritus, such as residual hum, and possessed a rather opaque sound. That has been duly opened up to considerable advantage in this new restoration to such an extent that one can hear some of the coughs that were hard to hear in Cembal d’amour’s work. As I wrote in that review, 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. With Kurtz, Heifetz constantly inflects the solo line with expressive shadings and intensely accented notes. His bowing is bewitching and he constantly 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. 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.

He recorded the Korngold Concerto commercially with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alfred Wallenstein in 1953. It remains one of his most succulent and brilliant recordings but this earlier live one is, in many ways - other than sound quality - even more remarkable. It was taken down only six weeks after Heifetz had given the world premiere performance with Vladimir Golschmann in St Louis. It’s taken at a very slightly more vivid tempo in New York than in Hollywood; the applause and Heifetz’s re-tuning inflate that first movement tempo somewhat. The concerto had originally been intended for Huberman, who was to die shortly after the premiere. It’s curious to think what kind of work it would have sounded had Huberman lived to give its first performance and recording - spikier, less ingratiating, rougher-hewn. Heifetz’s quiveringly intense and breathtakingly virtuosic violin playing is the acme of the Romantic violinist in live action. It was first released on Music and Arts.

There is a logic to this coupling despite the Mussorgsky being a studio recording; expatriate Russian-born virtuosi heard in performances made in 1947 and in superior transfers to those we’ve heard before.

Jonathan Woolf



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