Heifetz and Horowitz = MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition; MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 “Turkish”; KORNGOLD: Violin Concerto – Vladimir Horowitz, piano/ Jascha Heifetz, violin/ New York Philharmonic Orchestra/ Efrem Kurtz – Pristine

Heifetz and Horowitz = MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition; MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”; KORNGOLD: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 – Vladimir Horowitz, piano/ Jascha Heifetz, violin/ New York Philharmonic Orchestra/ Efrem Kurtz – Pristine Audio PASC 513, 77:27 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:  

Pristine pairs the two most eminent world musicians in 1947 renditions of virtuoso repertory.

The two most eminent virtuosos of their respective instruments appear in the space of six weeks in New York City in 1947 in total command of their chosen repertory. The Horowitz performance—from two sessions from November and December 1947 at Town Hall—of the long-familiar Mussorgsky suite had been issued by RCA in 1948, but not in so fine sound as Andrew Rose here achieves by virtue of his XR process.  The Heifetz collaborations had not been intended for release, having been preserved by the Carnegie Hall Recording Company, which utilized CBS equipment meant for New York Philharmonic broadcasts.

As Andrew Rose states, “The Heifetz Sunday afternoon concert of [30 March 1947] was also broadcast by CBS, but the lack of announcements over the extended applause suggests this was not a CBS recording. Whilst the concerto performances have appeared elsewhere on individual releases, both appeared in less than fine sound, with scratches, crackles and disc surface noise apparent.”

The entire Horowitz performance may quite intimidate some auditors, for its sheer will to monumentality and aggression, perhaps at the sacrifice like anything like subtlety. As a demonstration of technique and willpower, the reading conveys a titanic sense of linear direction, with only periodic diminishment of dynamics, and a piano sound and patina that might well have been realized by trumpets and drums. It would be almost pointless to single out individual moments in the course of this frenzied moment in time. If the sheer speed and volume of selected sections fail to impress, then you are either deaf or immune to some of the world’s most focused virtuosity. If Gnomus grinds with pre-Schoenberg harmony, the Bydlo oxcart lumbers with a mountainous gravity, and the Catacombs ring with ghoulish spirits.  Suffice it to say that the rocketry of Baba-Yaga quite sails into the Great Gate of Kiev, and Horowitz spares no effects to remind us that the original Promenade has metamorphosed into something both cosmic and solipsistic.  No applause ensues, but your home will tremble with after-shocks for some time.

Distinguished Russian conductor Efrem Kurtz (1900-1995) leads Heifetz in the two violin concertos, opening with a driven yet lyrical rendition of the Turkish Concerto, conceived when Mozart was nineteen. The phraseology moves briskly, occasionally clipping the line of its emotive character in order to provide a consistent sense of architecture. The piece itself reveals Mozart’s precocious assimilation of Italian and French style in his art of composition, along with his own penchant for fluctuating metric units.  If Heifetz appears rather lustrously glib in the outer movements, his lyrical potential glows in the Francophile E Major Adagio, although the preserved sound suffers from damaged originals.  In the section in a minor the effect becomes decidedly salon-like in character, delivered with an intimacy that the Heifetz ‘silken’ sonority often misses, for my taste.  The Janissary section of the last movement receives the bravura treatment it deserves, flying along in colorful array, with low strings’ playing on the wood to add percussion to the rousing march.

The D Major Concerto (1945) of Erich Korngold meant to be performed by Jascha Heifetz at its very conception, its themes derives from four Hollywood scores.  The idiom remains entirely glossy and romantic, allotting to Heifetz the lion’s share of eminence and melodic interest, but the orchestra enjoys a master’s sense of color, with contributions from xylophone, vibraphone, harp, and celesta. The Philharmonic cello and horn line in the opening Moderato nobile warrants a hats-off.  The aerial lyricism of the music will often raise images of Errol Flynn on the high seas or wearing tights to romp in Sherwood Forest. The Romance (in G Major) proves the heart of the Korngold, a lovely Andante that breathes colors whose magic lies in Mendelssohn and Humperdinck, if not Mahler. The violin part stays high in register, uttering a rich song that exploits the Heifetz penchant for the long line. The spicy Finale: Allegro assai vivace proffers a folk-dance whose original illuminated the score for the 1937 The Prince and the Pauper. Here, Heifetz applies a razor’s acerbity to the sonorous patina, with rhythms that gallop and cavort over lovely and transparent effects from the battery section. The Carnegie Hall audience applauds all three movements, as much for the charming music as for its colossally paired principals.

—Gary Lemco

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