About this Recording
8.112073 - Heifetz, Jascha: Encores, Vol. 2 (1946-1947)

Jascha Heifetz (1900–1987)
Encores • 2 (Original 1946–47 recordings)


Made in just four days of sessions in Hollywood with his regular accompanist Emanuel Bay, these ‘encores’ demonstrate Jascha Heifetz’s exceptional poise and his ability to polish a miniature so meticulously in rehearsal that the actual performance flowed with seeming ease. One would never guess that the years 1946 and 1947 were tumultuous ones for the violinist, coming after exhausting wartime tours in which he played many such pieces for the troops. In January 1946 he was divorced from his wife of eighteen years, the silent movie star Florence Vidor, and a year later he wed Frances Sears Spiegelberg. After the 1946–47 season he took a twenty-month sabbatical from the concert hall, although he fulfilled recording engagements. Two of the more interesting pieces also illustrate how far Heifetz had outstripped his contemporaries. As a child, he was a star of Leopold Auer’s St Petersburg class, along with his near-contemporary Toscha Seidel: the two often performed Bach’s Double Concerto and Auer once said: ‘Jascha plays like an angel but Toscha plays like the Devil.’ Yet Seidel did not fulfil his promise: his rhythmic vagueness undermined his concert career—witnesses described how his concerto performances got slower as they proceeded—and his lush tone was mainly heard in the movie studios. In 1941 he recorded Erich Korngold’s Much Ado About Nothing Suite for RCA Victor but, despite having the composer at the piano, it was not deemed fit for release (an eventual CD issue confirmed its slight shortcomings). Heifetz’s versions of the Garden Scene and the grotesque movement subtitled ‘March of the Watch’, depicting the comic characters Dogberry and Verges (Holzapfel and Schlehwein in the German version), set an altogether higher standard and it is a pity that he did not do the whole suite. The composition stemmed from the first of two occasions on which Korngold was called upon to provide music for a Shakespeare play. The second of these assignments changed his life: the director Max Reinhardt took him to Hollywood to adapt Mendelssohn’s music for a movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, initiating the process by which Korngold became lost to concert hall and opera house. The earlier Shakespearean project was to provide original music for a 1919 production of Much Ado About Nothing at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Scored for a smallish orchestra, the music was a great success and a suite of seven numbers, including the overture but none of the songs, was made for concert use. Korngold’s adaptation for violin and piano was necessitated when the run of performances was extended and an orchestra was no longer available: he and the violinist Rudolf Kolisch gave the first performance and, with the gift of a good cigar, persuaded the legendary horn virtuoso Karl Stiegler to join in the Hornpipe. The suite prepared from this version, minus the overture, is very enjoyable, as these two numbers show.

Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 2 February 1900. His father Rubin started him on the violin when he was three before passing him on to the Auer pupil Ilya Malkin. 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 the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1910, his father was enrolled too. After a preliminary course under Auer’s assistant, the fine Armenian violinist I. R. Nalbandian, Heifetz moved into the great pedagogue’s own class; he soon became Auer’s favourite student and made his St Petersburg début on 30 April 1911. 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 under Arthur Nikisch. He gave a further Berlin concert and Nikisch invited him to Leipzig, where he performed Bruch’s G minor on 12th February 1914. In Vienna he played the Mendelssohn under Vassily Safonov and he developed steadily through the early years of the Great War. 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 and in 1926 he played in Palestine. In 1939 he premièred the Walton Concerto in Cleveland; and after America had entered World War II he gave innumerable recitals for the forces, at home and overseas. 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. When he played the Tchaikovsky at Lewisohn Stadium in July that year, 20,000 people were in the audience and 1,000 had to be turned away. 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 Israel and introduced the Concertino by local composer Menachem Avidon, but insisted on breaking a twenty-year ban on German music by programming Richard Strauss’s Sonata, saying: ‘There are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music.’ Some Israelis disagreed and following his Jerusalem recital, a fanatical young man attacked him with an iron bar, injuring his right arm. Heifetz then toured Italy and Europe, shrugging off his pain. 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 recital in 1972, he grew increasingly reclusive; and he died in Los Angeles on 10 December 1987.

Our programme starts with one of Mozart’s most celebrated melodies, the Minuet from the best-known of his Divertimenti for string and horns: for a 1919 recording Heifetz played Willy Burmester’s arrangement but for this elegant 1947 performance he made some adjustments of his own. Two Debussy compositions are heard in versions by American violinist Arthur Hartmann, who knew the composer and gave concerts with him: both distil a lovely atmosphere. In The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, the second of four Heifetz recordings, note his muted tone, with double-stops delicately touched in. By contrast, this is his only recording of the song Il pleure dans mon coeur. Also unique in his discography are gorgeous readings of three Spanish pieces, Sarasate’s Romanza andaluza, with nice double-stops, Nin’s Cantilena asturiana, with subtle rhythm, and Ernesto Halffter’s Gipsy Dance, with pizzicati imitating a guitar. Falla’s Jota, on the other hand, with more pizzicati, was a Heifetz staple and this was the second of three recordings. The one comparative failure here is the Schubert Rondo arranged by Carl Friedberg: as in his 1926 version, Heifetz gives a rather hard-edged interpretation, confirming that Schubert was not for him. Mendelssohn was more to his taste and, despite fast tempi, these two pieces go well, the Song Without Words very lovely and the trio movement turned into an elfin dance. Three pieces have Polish connections. Tansman’s Mouvement perpétuel, almost like a bowing étude with added pizzicati, gets an amazing virtuoso reading—this recording has scared off virtually every other fiddler. The Tango by Wieniawski’s daughter Régine, who was Lady Dean Paul in real life and composed as Madame Poldowski, displays good rhythm and fine playing over a wide range. The Chopin Nocturne inevitably features double-stops. Heifetz recorded two of Darius Milhaud’s Saudades do Brasil in the 1925 transcriptions by French violinist Claude Lévy, Sumaré in 1934 and this subtle rendering of Corcovado in 1946. British composer Arnold Bax wrote his 1938 Violin Concerto for Heifetz, who found it insufficiently virtuosic and, as if in compensation, not only transcribed the 1920 piano piece Mediterranean but recorded it with beautiful pizzicati and glissandi and atmospheric double-stops. The Gavottes from Bach’s Sixth English Suite for keyboard get poised playing, with the variations in dynamics subtly done. Another expert Heifetz transcription is the German Dance by Beethoven, elegantly dispatched. The Italian Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was consistently championed by Heifetz from the early 1920s; and after Mussolini turned against the Jews in 1938, the violinist helped the composer to settle in America. Sea Murmurs was a special favourite with Heifetz and this loving rendition was the second of three recordings. The 1891 Violin Concerto by Anton Arensky was not in Heifetz’s repertoire but he knew it as a student, well enough to recall its waltz movement later in life and make a delectable transcription: his rhythmically subtle performance is the very epitome of a perfumed salon piece. The other item here from the golden age of Russian romantic music is the ubiquitous insect from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Tsar Sultan. Heifetz was often asked to play it for the troops and this performance features terrific bowing.

Tully Potter

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