About this Recording
8.111363 - LALO, E.: Symphonie espagnole / CHAUSSON, E.: Poeme / WIENIAWSKI, H.: Violin Concerto No. 2 (Heifetz) (1951-1954)
English 

Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987)
Lalo • Chausson • Wieniawski • Ravel • Saint-Saëns • Tchaikovsky

 

The recordings on this disc come from the second part of Jascha Heifetz’s career, when the violinist took stock of his concert-giving and, conscious that he was at a dangerous age for a front-rank virtuoso, began to do a little less. After the 1946–47 season, he took a twenty-month break from the concert hall; and although he made a number of recordings in the last months of 1947, the following year his professional diary was blank. He had wed his second wife, Frances Spiegelberg, in January 1947 and in the autumn of 1948 she bore him a son, Joseph. During his lay-off, Heifetz put his violin aside for a time and, apart from family matters, thought about the future direction of his career and looked through a lot of music, old and new. ‘We all get in a rut, we get too close to ourselves,’ he told a journalist after his return to concert-giving in January 1949. ‘Like an engine, we occasionally need a general overhaul.’ With regard to music, he said, he had taken time to ‘dust things off, launder them, dry clean them, rethink some things’. Needless to say, his concerts on his return were packed out. When he played the Tchaikovsky Concerto at Lewisohn Stadium in July 1949, 20,000 people were in the audience and 1,000 had to be turned away. A performance at Robin Hood Dell, Philadelphia, four days later was attended by 12,000 enthusiasts. During the years when these recordings were made, Heifetz became one of the first soloists to play at the new Royal Festival Hall in London, in May 1951, and visited London again in June 1953 and November 1954. In April 1953 he made his second tour of the new state of Israel but, against the wishes of the Israeli minister of culture, insisted on breaking a twenty-year ban on German music by programming Richard Strauss’s Sonata in his recitals, saying: ‘There are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music.’ He was cheered in Haifa but in Tel Aviv the audience sat silent after the Strauss. Following the Jerusalem recital, a fanatical young man attacked him with an iron bar, injuring his right arm. Heifetz fulfilled his recital booking in Rehovot the next day but cancelled a further Tel Aviv recital. He then toured Italy and Europe, shrugging off his injury.

Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 2 February 1900. His father Rubin, a competent fiddler, started him on the violin when he was three before passing him on to Ilya Malkin, a pupil of Auer. At six Jascha made his début and a year later he played the Mendelssohn Concerto in Kovno. To enable him to stay with his family when he entered Auer’s St Petersburg Conservatory class in 1910, his father was enrolled too. Heifetz became Auer’s favourite and made his St Petersburg début on 30 April the following year. On 24 May 1912, still using a three-quarter-sized instrument, he played the Mendelssohn Concerto (with piano), Wieniawski’s Souvenir de Moscou and short pieces at the Berlin Hochschule; and on 28 October 1912 he replaced the indisposed Pablo Casals in a Berlin Philharmonic subscription concert. Playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto, he impressed the evening’s conductor Arthur Nikisch, who invited him to Leipzig for the Bruch G minor (performed on 12 February 1914). In Vienna he played the Mendelssohn under Vassily Safonov and he developed steadily through the early years of the Great War. In those days he often played Bach’s Double Concerto with his Auer classmate Toscha Seidel, whom he later eclipsed. He missed the chaos of 1917 but caused his own October Revolution that year with his historic New York début at Carnegie Hall. In 1920 he made his London bow with two Queen’s Hall concerts which were so successful that he returned the same year—playing the Elgar Concerto with the composer present. He also visited Paris and Berlin; and in 1921 he toured Australia. In 1925 he took U.S. citizenship, in 1926 he played in Palestine and in 1928 he married the film star Florence Vidor. During World War II he gave many concerts for the U.S. forces. In 1947 he reintroduced himself to London with the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky Concertos at the Royal Albert Hall, before the Queen and an audience exceeding 6,000. In 1949 he played for President Truman and President Chaim Weizmann of Israel in New York and again offered Londoners the Elgar, also recording it. In 1959 he performed for the United Nations General Assembly but in the 1960s he began to confine himself mainly to the West Coast of America; chamber music also loomed larger in his life, through the Heifetz-Piatigorsky Concerts. Having given his last concert in 1972, he grew increasingly reclusive; and he died in Los Angeles on 10 December 1987. Heifetz did some teaching but his influence was mainly disseminated through his playing and his many recordings. Although he had a 1731 Stradivarius, his favourite fiddle was the 1742 ‘David’ Guarnerius del Gesù.

At his best, Heifetz played the concerto and sonata repertoire with a strong command of structure, coupled with minute attention to detail. He held the violin high and flat, pioneering a particularly high right elbow which helped him to exert maximum bow pressure (he favoured German rather than French bows). To speak of him in purely gymnastic terms would be to overlook the sensuous beauty of his tone—yet he was the ultimate violinistic athlete, standing with feet perfectly balanced and hands in precise co-ordination. Off the concert platform, he was a good tennis player, oarsman and swimmer. With his mordant, often caustic wit, he could be highly entertaining (his parodies of bad violin playing were published on an LP under the pseudonym ‘Joseph Hague’); but he could behave like the epitome of a ‘control freak’—and he was extremely litigious. He excelled in Brahms, Bruch, Glazunov, Prokofiev, Sibelius, Spohr, Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski but in the Classics was frequently criticised for taking fast tempi, especially in later years; and he seemed to introduce an element of competition into all his music-making. Of his many commissions, the Walton Concerto was the most successful, its central movement a showcase for his ability to polish a phrase with a miniaturist’s art. His repertoire reached well into the twentieth century but he did not play the Prokofiev First, Berg or Bartók Concertos—or the Schoenberg, although it was written with him in mind. He was a fair pianist and an expert arranger who also composed popular songs.

The only work here which was in Heifetz’s active recital repertoire at the time of recording was Ravel’s Tzigane: this was the second of his three versions and the only one with orchestra. The piece is quintessential Heifetz territory and he despatches its fiendish technical difficulties with almost contemptuous ease. Like everything else on this disc, it was recorded in Hollywood with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, although for contractual reasons the pseudonym ‘RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra’ was sometimes used. Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole, written for Sarasate, was studied in Auer’s class and was in Heifetz’s recital portfolio until the late 1920s. In 1919 he recorded the Andante alone. Like most fiddlers of his time, he omitted the central Intermezzo, the reasoning being that four movements better suited the term ‘Symphony’; and in any case, the Intermezzo did not work well with piano. Henry Merckel and Yehudi Menuhin recorded the complete score in the early 1930s but even Arthur Grumiaux used the four-movement score for his 1954 mono recording. During five days of sessions at Abbey Road, London, in 1950, Heifetz recorded the Symphonie espagnole for HMV with the Philharmonia under Walter Susskind, using tape but still working in 78rpm takes of up to five minutes. That version was rejected and the work was remade a year later in America, with William Steinberg conducting and an RCA team in charge, working in longer takes. Saint-Saëns’s Introduction et Rondo capriccioso was a staple of Heifetz’s repertoire in the 1930s: he recorded it in 1935 with John Barbirolli conducting (Naxos 8.110943) and played it in his first film, They Shall Have Music. This 1951 recording shows that although he no longer aired it regularly, he still had it under his fingers. Chausson’s Poème, one of the most haunting works for violin, was recorded just this once by Heifetz: his interpretation is a little febrile by comparison with those of Enescu, Oistrakh, Grumiaux and Perlman but the playing as such is immaculate. Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade mélancolique was often heard in Heifetz’s early recitals, invariably with piano, yet his three recordings, beginning with a 1920 acoustic version, were made with orchestra (this 1954 rendering was followed in 1970 by one in stereo with chamber orchestra). Heifetz uses a heavier, tenser vibrato than usual; and interestingly Leonid Kogan, a Heifetz admirer, employs a similar, almost stuttering vibrato in his famous recording—although it must be admitted that, by taking 50 per cent more time over it, Kogan makes rather more of the piece. Wieniawski’s D minor Concerto was a fixture in Heifetz’s pre-war recitals with piano and was recorded with orchestra on the same day as the Saint-Saëns Rondo. That 1935 performance (Naxos 8.110938) is one of the glories of the Heifetz discography; and working almost twenty years later with the more prosaic Izler Solomon, Heifetz does not even try to match it: the first movement’s second theme, phrased with a unique tenderness under Barbirolli, is now played quite nonchalantly. Yet the virtuosity in the finale is as exciting as ever. We may regret that Heifetz (or his record company) chose to repeat works, when pieces from his recitals in the period under review went unrecorded—Catoire’s Poème, Suk’s Burlesca, Aulin’s Humoreske, Szymanowski’s Notturno, Kreisler’s solo Recitativo and Scherzo—but there are riches enough here, in all conscience.

Tully Potter

 

Producer’s Note

The sources for the transfers were American LPs except for the Tchaikovsky, which came from a British pressing. The original master tapes contain a few instances of clicks, thumps and extraneous noises that are common to all editions, and are not a function of the LP pressings used here.

Mark Obert-Thorn


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