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Heifetz New York RH025

Jascha Heifetz (violin)
The Legendary New York Concerts
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.35 (1945)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No.5 in A major, K.219 Turkish (1775)
Jules Conus (1869-1942)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.1 (1896)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.61 (1806)
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Double Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, Op.102 (1887)
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Efrem Kurtz (Korngold, Mozart)
Unnamed orchestra without conductor (Conus, Brahms)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Paul Paray (Beethoven)
rec. 30 March 1947, Carnegie Hall (Korngold, Mozart); 15 October 1966, Carnegie Hall (Conus, Brahms); 9 December 1959, UN General Assembly Hall, New York (Beethoven)
RHINE CLASSICS RH-025 [67 + 71]

This twofer carries recordings known and unknown, at least to me. Heifetz performed the Korngold and Mozart A major concertos at a single concert in Carnegie Hall on 30 March 1947. Efrem Kurtz conducted the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in what was the first radio broadcast of the Korngold, with the composer present in the audience. It was recorded in-house by the hall’s own company. The Korngold had been premièred by Heifetz in St Louis the previous month and six years later he made his famous LP of the work. I reviewed this Mozart and Korngold brace when they appeared on Pristine Audio whose XR technology algorithmically magnified the sound but Rhine Classics’ 24bit 96 kHz remastering work is perfectly fine, and without blemish. I have to admit I don’t know which recording they have accessed - or whether they could have had access to the hall’s transcription discs themselves, which seems unlikely - but there we are.

This performance of the Beethoven was given at the UN General Assembly Hall in New York in 1959 with the Detroit Symphony under Paul Paray. Having recently listened to 44 CDs of Paray’s Mercury recordings (and one DG) I wasn’t planning to listen to any more for several years but this live performance demands attention. Pre-war Heifetz worked well with Barbirolli in London but as he became a more brittle, less emotively generous player, he found partners in American-based autocrats. Paray was no autocrat, but he demanded tightness, precision and clarity from his orchestras and makes a splendid partner for Heifetz. Paray was almost invariably a proponent of fast tempi, as obviously was Heifetz, and together they maintain a fast basic pulse that does admit metricality. In the first movement Heifetz plays the Auer cadenza with his only emendations. The slow movement is certainly fast, but it is communicative and the finale is buoyant, incisive, and wonderfully played. The closing announcements are separately tracked as is the opening tuning up. One of the advantages of live Heifetz is that he couldn’t manipulate the balance so what we hear is a far more reasonable balance between soloist and orchestra. There are a couple of blips on the tape at 9:07 and 11:40 but they only last a second.

Rhine Classics calls the accompanying concertos ‘bonus’ material. In October 1965 Heifetz appeared at Carnegie Hall with a 50-piece pick-up band, led by concertmaster John Corigliano, who’d just left the New York Philharmonic. There was no conductor, though Heifetz directed. Among the pieces that night was the Conus Concerto, of which he had already made a superb recording back in 1953. This is an ‘audience taping’ so someone was sitting in the stalls, I assume, with a cassette player. You can hear bumps, thumps, rustles and other inevitable corollaries of the ‘cassette hidden under a jacket’ scenario. You can hear Heifetz very backwardly though the orchestra is much more present and forceful. The brass can be overpowering. You can hear next to nothing of Heifetz’s tone though and, to be frank, it could be anyone playing, for all one would know.

The other work was the Brahms Double, with Piatigorsky, about the only musician with whom Heifetz enjoyed a consistently affectionate relationship. Again, the horns blast the cassette’s mechanism and both musicians are really too far away for proper identification. There’s no reason to prefer either of these performances to the studio recordings though, to be fair, Rhine isn’t suggesting that you would. These are on-the-wing, deeply compromised concert recordings, but I’d certainly rather have heard them than not.

Rhine reprints a perceptive New York Times review of the concert by Howard Klein and there are some attractive reproductions of Heifetz. I’d not seen the photograph of Michael Rabin’s score of the Conus, signed by Heifetz, before.

Conclusion? Great Beethoven, decent Mozart, scintillating Korngold, with semi-audible souvenirs of Conus and Brahms. You decide.

Jonathan Woolf

Published: October 7, 2022

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