Notes and Editorial Reviews
Heifetz recorded Mozart’s Fourth Concerto twice in the studio: the recording with Thomas Beecham on November 10, 1947, that RCA has now re-released, and a later one with Malcolm Sargent from May 14 and 16, 1962. He liked the Fifth Concerto perhaps even better, since he recorded it three times in the studio: the first, now re-released, with John Barbirolli from February 23, 1934; another with Malcolm Sargent from May 19, 1951; and a third, in which he played and conducted, from October 6, 1963. He recorded Mendelssohn’s Concerto on October 6, 1949, with Thomas Beecham, here re-released, and with Charles Munch on February 23 and 25, 1959. In addition, live performances of all three works, or parts of them, have been issued from time to time.
If Heifetz enjoyed playing Mozart, he didn’t enjoy a reputation for playing Mozart idiomatically. Yet Henry Roth, who found fault with so many of the greatest artists, had few unkind things to say about Heifetz’s Mozart—except for it’s being idiosyncratic (incidentally, Roth generally preferred the performances on this reissue). Yet at a time when period-performance practitioners have reached out from Vivaldi, Biber, and Handel to Mozart, Heifetz’s readings of Mozart’s concertos shouldn’t any longer seem beyond the pale. In the Fourth Concerto, in fact, it’s downright refreshing to hear the first movement’s passagework sparkle with such brilliance and cleanliness. In the second movement, portamentos and highly individual and recognizable phrasing only sign the performance with the violinist’s unique signature. And who else could bring off the across-the-string passages in the last movement with such clarity at Heifetz’s tempo? Tully Potter mentions in the notes that Heifetz confided in an interview that he thought Mozart and Beethoven posed special challenges—even of the technical kind. He wasn’t alone. Ruggiero Ricci, when asked which concerto he found most difficult to play well, answered almost without reflecting that it was the last movement of Mozart’s Fourth Concerto. When two renowned technicians find the same thing difficult, that thing must be a bone crusher. The engineers placed Heifetz in the midst of the ensemble, but he sounds natural and even richer than he appears in later recordings that may have the advantage of representing his sound closer up.
Henry Roth preferred Heifetz’s second recorded account of Mendelssohn’s Concerto, but acknowledged that the two were very similar. In fact, as much of Heifetz reveals itself in the first movement from EMI’s DVD, although the DVD sounded almost painfully grainy. Heifetz’s no-nonsense approach to the Concerto nevertheless accommodates his sparkling tempos and his magisterial cadenza in the first movement, a focused yet genially relaxed slow movement, and a quicksilver finale (more impressive in sheer virtuosity than that of the later recording). The recorded sound reveals a surprising amount of orchestral detail.
Mozart’s Fifth Concerto, often taken as his most developed (aside from the Sinfonia concertante), appeared to be Heifetz’s favorite as well. The recorded sound from 1934 may not possess the richness of the later ones restored on EMI’s re-release (and may be noisy and otherwise problematic), but Heifetz himself appears in a flattering light, given its age (Tully Potter once remarked that Heifetz’s sound, produced on gut strings, had been ideally suited to the early recording techniques). Heifetz chose Joachim’s cadenzas, and hearing him whirl his way through the first movement cadenza’s complexities should be an illuminating moment for violinists. Characteristic portamentos in now unexpected places bring to the third movement unaccustomed lightness and elegance—and the Turkish episode sounds light and fleet rather than fast and furious.
Now that reviewers haven’t had Heifetz himself to kick around for almost 20 years, it will be interesting to discover whether they continue to kick him around in effigy through his recordings. My guess is that with the ascendancy of period practice and its highly individual practitioners, Heifetz might actually receive a fairer hearing. In any case, this release should be mighty fair listening and a staple for collections. Recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Violin no 4 in D major, K 218 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Jascha Heifetz (Violin)
Sir Thomas Beecham
Royal Philarmonic Orquestra
Written: 1775; Salzburg, Austria
Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 by Felix Mendelssohn
Jascha Heifetz (Violin)
Sir John Barbirolli
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1844; Germany
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