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BBC Music Magazine, July 2011


Six works, including a mesmerizing ravel Tzigane, a highly lyrical Chausson Poème and a spellbinding Wieniaski.

Gary Lemco
Audiophile Audition, March 2011

This appears to be a banner year for the reissue of classic Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987) materials, the recorded testament of the violinist who once reigned supreme among devotees of  the fiddler‘s art.  Naxos has assigned veteran engineer and producer Mark Obert-Thorn the grateful task of reviving six fine inscriptions from the latter part of Heifetz’s huge career on record, 1951–1954.

The program opens with Lalo’s famous D Minor Symphonie espagnole (12–13 June 1951), recorded at Republic Studios and the pseudonymous Los Angeles Philharmonic with William Steinberg, a performance of character and brisk articulation, but perhaps too refined in the violin part to capture the gypsy rustic elements in the score. Heifetz plays the abridged version, sans Intermezzo. The suave Heifetz tone works perhaps best in the Andante, which has no especial Spanish connection or thematic orientation.  The Rondo brings a decided sparkle, however; and to hear Heifetz in fast bravura passagework always provides a spectacular luster to any musical experience. The 19 June 1951 Saint-Saëns A Minor Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso stands a model of the Heifetz facile negotiation of 32nd notes, breezy transitions, harmonics, octave jumps, and the immaculate maintenance of the 6/8 pulse that throbs in the melodic minor to color the music with a Moorish brush.  Steinberg proves no slouch, either, with his fierce attacks and crisp articulation of the pizzicati and cadential shifts, Heifetz in 2/4 to his 6/8. The staccato up bows are enough to wear any other violinist down, but Heifetz triumphs easily, and Steinberg responds throughout to produce a seamless rendition of a surefire warhorse.

Heifetz complained in one of his UCLA Master Class broadcasts that other violinists played the 189 Chausson Poeme too slowly. His tautly active 2 December 1952 inscription with a prosaic Izler Solomon endures for Heifetz’s clean double stops, the buoyancy of the ascending line over three octaves, his directness of attack, all contribute to a programless drama—ostensibly inspired by a tale by Turgenev—highly sectionalized and consistently ardent. The melodic line becomes  a chorale, alternately meditative, bemused, and frenzied. Ravel’s Tzigane (8 December 1953) still occupied a place in the Heifetz active repertory of the early 1950’s; he would include it in his last recital at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1972. A blistering solo introduction yields to Stanley Chaloupka’s resonant harp in tandem with Heifetz’ s slides and angular riffs. Harmonics abound, as do rapid shifts of register and bowed articulation, a gypsy caravan of effects! Alfred Wallenstein tries to keep pace with the febrile Heifetz, but we feel that he’s under a strain. Typically of all of Ravel’s “dance” forms, this one reaches a critical mass and explodes, the shards of melody and rhythm flying in all directions, musical lightning.

Two Slavic pieces end the survey: Tchaikovsky’s Serenade melancolique (29 October 1954) and the Wieniawski D Minor Concerto (5 November 1954). Heifetz moves through the Tchaikovsky with glib felicity and a relatively heavy vibrato. Another glib rendition flows from Heifetz in the Wieniawski, where plastic symmetry seems more the concern than emotional depth. Still, the easy virtues of melodic invention and bold playfulness in the last movement define the Heifetz experience as always, inimitable.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Naxos is producing a good line in Heifetz discs of late. This one focuses on Hollywood recordings made between 1951 and 1954. By ‘Hollywood’ one means those recorded there, either at Republic Studios or, in the case of the Chausson Poème, United Artists. Heifetz’s partners on the rostrum were Izler Solomon, William Steinberg and Alfred Wallenstein, directing variously either the Los Angels Philharmonic or the RCA Symphony.

Despite the fact that they’re very well known examples of his legerdemain, there is still an opportunity to add one or two points of interest when discussing them. The Lalo Symphonie espagnole is performed without the Intermezzo, in accordance with the practice of almost all students of Leopold Auer. The sound is rather blowsy in Stage 9 of the Republic Studios, and this, allied to Heifetz’s own tone production, tends to militate against anything especially Gallic in the performance’s orientation. Still, the second movement is brilliantly nimble, the finale replete with some gorgeous and characteristic slides. The slow movement though lacks, in both tone and immediacy, graver feelings such as one finds in the recordings of the work by Henry Merckel and Zino Francescatti. Indeed Heifetz had come to London the previous year to record the work with Walter Susskind and the Philharmonia, but it didn’t work out to mutual satisfaction, and the recording was never issued, hence this second try in Los Angeles. But the Susskind performance has since been resurrected by Testament [SBT1216] and proves somewhat the warmer performance, with a more sensible balance between solo instrument and orchestra.

In 1945 Heifetz recorded Chausson’s Poème with Pierre Monteux and San Francisco Symphony, another reading that had to wait until the Testament disc for general circulation. It’s a less febrile, more imaginative performance than this rather externalised 1952 version with Solomon. Similarly, the pre-war 78 set of Wieniawski’s Second Concerto with Barbirolli—their collaborations were always superb, and it’s a shame that their falling out led to no performances after the war—is better than this 1954 traversal, once again with Izler Solomon. It’s by no means a poor affair, just too matter of fact. The three remaining items are all first class. Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade mélancolique offers a rest from the hothouse elsewhere in this spicy selection, whilst Ravel’s Tzigane is the acme of violinistics. His other recordings were piano accompanied; this is the only surviving orchestral version. And finally we have the Saint-Saëns which, whilst still not superior to the Barbirolli recording, has a steely and commanding countenance.

Splendid transfers complete a well programmed disc.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

Seven recordings made by Jascha Heifetz in Hollywood film studios over the period 1951–54, by which time we were into the LP era with all of the attendant editing facilities. Much has been written relating to the difference between relaxed sessions made in the UK by Heifetz and the steely brilliance of his American recordings. The present disc would fuel that notion, the dexterity and fast tempi here placing Heifetz in a league of his own when technical brilliance is the defining quality. His Lalo, shorn of the central Intermezzo, is never short of excitement in the three quick movements, yet is wanting in affection, the spiky spiccato in the finale so rhythmically exact, while his fast vibrato imparts its full quota of sweetness to the Andante. The Saint-Saens has sparkle and a sense of fun, and he ideally captures the mood swings in a sultry account of Chausson’s Poeme. To my ears he fell between all three stools in Ravel’s Tzigane, never sounding French, nor having the freedom to impart a gypsy atmosphere, while the ending is far too fast. Tchaikovsky is his world, the Serenade melancolique pulsating with vibrato as he ignores the melancolique part of the title. As the sleeve note writer rightly points out, Heifetz had already recorded the Wieniawski concerto in London (available on Naxos), and if any pair of recordings point to the difference between his US and English recordings, this is it. Heifetz is here a high pressure virtuoso shorn of John Barbirolli’s guiding hand to encourage that flexibility of pulse and tenderness of approach. The Los Angeles orchestra—also in its RCA Victor guise—adds discrete support, engineers ever mindful of Heifetz’s ‘front of the house’ billing.

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