Heifetz: Three Violin Concertos = MOZART: MENDELSSOHN; PROKOFIEV – Pristine Audio 

by | Apr 5, 2019 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Heifetz: Three Violin Concertos = MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major, K. 218; MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64; PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63 – Jascha Heifetz, violin/ Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Serge Koussevitzky/ Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/ Donald Vorhees (Mendelssohn) – Pristine Audio PASC 558, 68:30 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

The privilege of hearing the legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz (1902-1987) in his prime, 1947-1949, by virtue of several unique circumstances.  It seems a Boston area recording studio executive set up a microphone for the Heifetz collaboration with Serge Koussevitzky (1 April 1949) and created a “bootleg” document.  The performances surfaced of the Mozart and Prokofiev, respectively, on the Cembal d’amour label (CD 120, 2003 and CD 115, 2001).  While Heifetz and Koussevitzky made a commercial RCA recording of the Prokofiev work on 20 December 1937, the Mozart immediately added some delicious sense of style to a new item in the conductor’s discography.  The Mozart includes the typical Heifetz touches in random bow pressure and sudden accelerations and dynamic adjustments, but the ease and facility of style remain astonishing.  Heifetz plays his own cadenzas in the two outer movements.  Tempos, especially in the last movement, remain brisk, and even a bit fast for my taste in the second movement Andante assai, which only Jiri Novak and Vaclav Talich take at a true walking pace.

Considering that Koussevitzky soon approached the end of his monumental tenure with the Boston Symphony, the energy he brings to the orchestral tissue of the 1935 Prokofiev concerto, given its tricky accents after the solo enters from its lowest note and then sings over the muted strings an extraordinarily lyrical melody.  The Boston low winds and basses urge the sonic mix forward, leaning into the sweet melody that Heifetz seems to impart with an especial glow, haloed by horns and flute. While the Prokofiev sense of irony manages to peek from behind certain sonorities, the sensibility of the first two movements remains conservative, especially in the lovely triplet motion of the succeeding Andante assai.  Here, Heifetz intones an enchanted lyric over pizzicato figures in winds and strings that suddenly assumes a basking, expansive sense of a rhapsody. The flute work – Georges Laurent – against Heifetz proves equally hypnotic. In the last movement, Allegro ben marcato, Prokofiev reverts somewhat to his well-earned “rebel” status, adding oddly spaced accents in essentially triple time, with sound effects from castanets, brash gestures from the horns, and ironic, bravura figures from Heifetz himself.  The dizzy march sometimes dances, sometimes stumbles, but the momentum becomes captivating, as the audience hysteria well testifies at the end of a brilliant coda.

The “found curio” on this disc derives from two appearances by Heifetz on the Bell Telephone Hour, his having performed the last two movements of the familiar Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (20 January 1947) and the opening movement later, 26 June 1949, so that Andrew Rose and his team at Pristine Audio have spliced a complete rendition of the work that never existed in “real” time.  The opening movement emerges with s hearty passion that does not relent, the Heifetz tone burnished and penetrating, at once.  The urgency to the cadenza proves electric, and no one competes with the Heifetz up-bow.  Obviously, the woodwind segue to the second movement compels our interest, given the burst of applause at the end of the original Allegro molto appassionato.  Subdued and lyrically restrained, the Andante emerges without affectation, the melodic line extending in unbroken arioso. Vorhees contributes a waltz rhythm over ostinato accents, and the aural combination achieves an aerial nobility that sustains this music’s lasting repute. For my money, the last movement has never had the emotional potency of the rest of the concerto, opting as it does for effects that borrow all too blatantly on the Midsummer Night’s Dream sensibility, at least after the brief, relatively ardent opening Allegretto non troppo.  Heifetz, nevertheless, negotiates the knotty rhythms and figures with characteristic, virtuosic aplomb, and everyone lives happily ever after.  The coup belongs as much to Andrew Rose as to the participating musicians, restoring a complete “idea” of this work from a master clearly in total command of his spectacular, instrumental powers.

—Gary Lemco

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