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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K218 (1775) [21:14]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63 (1935) [23:16]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844) [24:02]
Jascha Heifetz (violin)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
Bell Telephone O/Donald Voorhees (Mendelssohn)
rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, April 1949, (Mozart, Prokofiev) and June 1949 (Mendelssohn First Movement) and January 1947 (Mendelssohn Second and Third Movements)

There’s nothing new to the Heifetz discography here given that these performances have all been made available before. They are however brought together in a novel way - there is an important footnote regarding the Mendelssohn Concerto, for which see below - and have been subject to XR restoration.

Heifetz performed the Mozart and Prokofiev Concertos in Boston on 1 April 1949. They were recorded by a local recording studio somewhat ‘on the sly’ but apparently without the intention of commercial gain. They are therefore direct line recordings and it seems unlikely any of the musical participants knew what was going on.

The violinist recorded Mozart’s D minor in the studio with Beecham and Sargent and neither was a particular adornment to his art. The same is true of this one with Koussevitzky, defaced as it is by his perfumed phrasing and too predictable, all-purpose slides. This is evident in the opening movement, made patent in the slow movement, and only slightly mitigated by a decent finale. As so often in this work he plays his own cadenzas. Koussevitzky’s direction is adequate, though there are unshapely, tangled moments orchestrally. The XR transfer has beneficially smoothed out the sound over previous incarnations I’ve heard but has also distanced the solo line.

The Prokofiev is altogether better and plays to both men’s strengths. Even those who incline to Oistrakh’s tempi and tone must surely respect a performance as refined and commanding as this Boston one. XR has detached that somewhat acidic quality that clung to the solo line in previous releases but somewhat at the expense of occluding Heifetz’s tone; to me he sounds less like Heifetz and more monochrome.

The Mendelssohn, to which I alluded above, is a composite. On the Bell Telephone Hour programme he played the second and third movements in January 1947 and the first movement one evening in June 1949, well over two years later. This is apparently making its first appearance in full though whether Pristine’s notes are right to observe that the work is ‘finally united’ – as if the movements were ever divided in the first place (the nature of the programme’s timing made it impossible to play the whole concerto) – is much less arguable. I don’t have a particular problem with this, but I think there is a conceptual difference between artists revisiting a work in the studio (as, for example, Beecham habitually did, fiddling about with things) and putting together two distinct live broadcast performances made over two and a half years apart. That said, Heifetz is his usual sleek self in this work. It’s just that, like Mozart – and fervent admirer of Heifetz as I am, despite appearances to the contrary in this review - I don’t much like him in this concerto, and constantly wish he would do less. In other words, in Mozart and Mendelssohn, I wish he were Szigeti. Voorhees is a perfectly competent accompanist. The transfer is good.

To my surprise, I am slightly disappointed by the transfers in the Mozart and Prokofiev. As for interpretative matters, you can happily ignore my own allegiances for other violinists in the repertoire under discussion.

Jonathan Woolf

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