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ClassicsOnline Home » Heifetz, Jascha: Miniatures, Vol. 2 (1944-1948)
This second of two volumes (Vol. 1 is available on 8.111379) completes the repertoire recorded by Jascha Heifetz during his short wartime period with American Decca. Aware of the need for lighter music while touring for the US troops, Heifetz nonetheless refused to play down to his audiences, praising the G.I.s’ ‘interest in good music’. This more classical programme represents the violinist’s staggering virtuosity and range, from a spectacular paraphrase of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville to the lyrical expressiveness of Saint-Saëns’s The Swan. The inclusion of four rare V-Disc recordings concludes a remarkable legacy of uniquely vibrant performances.
Jascha Heifetz (1900–1987)
Miniatures • 2 (Original 1944–48 Recordings)
Virtually throughout his career, Jascha Heifetz recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company and its affiliates or successors. The one major aberration occurred in 1944–46, when he was contracted to American Decca (his very first and very last records were also made for other labels). It was an unsettling time anyway, with the United States at war and Heifetz ‘doing his bit’ by touring overseas for the United Services Organisation, visiting army camps, bivouac areas, replacement depots and even the front lines. In addition, since August 1942 the American Federation of Musicians had been operating a recording ban; and although Heifetz was not in the union, he was unable to make records. In the 1943–44 season he toured Central and South America for the USO with his usual accompanist Emanuel Bay; and in June and July 1944 he toured the Italian war theatre and North Africa with the pianist Milton Kaye. A music-loving minesweeper officer, Lieutenant Gerald Berlin, reported for The New York Times on the duo’s recital at the stadium in Naples intended by Mussolini for a world fair, but now part of a hospital centre: ‘The night was balmy, the scenery beautiful and the music unsurpassable. But the 15,000 or so G.I.s grew restless and then noisy. They began to shout requests or advice in the middle of pieces and some soldier’s chimpanzee broke loose and ran on the stage to share attention with the performing artist. Heifetz adapted quickly and well. He shortened and lightened his programme, parried the louder remarks with retorts proper, and generally kept a potentially embarrassing situation from getting out of hand.’ On his return, Heifetz accepted Decca’s offer of a contract because RCA Victor were still at loggerheads with the union; and on 16 and 18 October, he and Kaye knocked off thirteen sides. In conversation with the present writer in 2000, Kaye recalled that they had prepared a dozen pieces, but the recording team wanted another (on the intervening day Heifetz had done an orchestral record of White Christmas, which would make an odd side). The violinist found a copy of Leopold Godowsky’s Wienerisch and after one runthrough, they recorded it then and there. Five weeks later Heifetz gave the première of his latest commission—a concerto by Louis Gruenberg incorporating two spirituals and a foxtrot in its second movement—with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. From April to May 1945 Heifetz and Bay were on a USO tour of the European theatre, experiencing the euphoria of VE Day and the distress of the discovery of the death camps. They took part in the first American entertainment for their Russian allies and despite a bout of illness and the vicissitudes of their impromptu recitals, Heifetz returned to New York full of praise for the GIs. ‘Their interest in good music increased enormously,’ he told the press. ‘Some of my best audiences were soldiers who had just come from combat duty. This happened in Germany. Their faces were grimy, they still carried their rifles, and they had given up their rest period to hear the concert. They kept me playing for two hours. They wanted more, and we had to give it to them.’ His experiences—including 63 encores of Hora staccato—convinced him that radio stations in American played down to their audiences, who would appreciate good music if it was offered. From November 1945 to July 1946, Heifetz completed his Decca assignments. During this period he divorced his wife of eighteen years, Florence Vidor, but the stress did not show in his playing as recorded.
Heifetz was born in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 2 February 1900. His father Rubin started him on the violin when he was three before passing him on to the Auer pupil Ilya Malkin. At six Jascha made his début and a year later he played the Mendelssohn Concerto in Kovno. To enable him to stay with his family when he entered Auer’s St Petersburg Conservatory class in 1910, his father was enrolled too. Heifetz became Auer’s favourite student and made his St Petersburg début on 30 April the following year. On 24 May 1912, still using a three-quarter-sized instrument, he played the Mendelssohn Concerto (with piano), Wieniawski’s Souvenir de Moscou and short pieces at the Berlin Hochschule; and on 28 October 1912 he replaced the indisposed Pablo Casals in a Berlin Philharmonic subscription concert, playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto under Arthur Nikisch. He gave a further Berlin concert and Nikisch invited him to Leipzig, where he performed Bruch’s G minor Concerto on 12 February 1914. In Vienna he played the Mendelssohn under Vassily Safonov and he developed steadily through the early years of the Great War. He missed the chaos of 1917 but caused his own October Revolution that year with his historic New York début at Carnegie Hall. In 1920 he made his London bow with two Queen’s Hall concerts which were so successful that he returned the same year—playing the Elgar Concerto with the composer present. He also visited Paris and Berlin; and in 1921 he toured Australia. In 1925 he took U.S. citizenship and in 1926 he played in Palestine. In 1939 he premièred the Walton Concerto in Cleveland. In 1947 he reintroduced himself to London with the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky Concertos at the Royal Albert Hall, before the Queen and an audience exceeding 6,000. After the 1946–47 season, he took a twenty-month break from the concert hall. In 1949 he played for President Truman and President Chaim Weizmann of Israel in New York and again offered Londoners the Elgar, also recording it. When he played the Tchaikovsky at Lewisohn Stadium in July that year, 20,000 people were in the audience and 1,000 had to be turned away. Heifetz became one of the first soloists to play at the new Royal Festival Hall in London, in May 1951, and visited London again in June 1953 and November 1954. In April 1953 he made his second tour of Israel but insisted on breaking a twenty-year ban on German music by programming Richard Strauss’s Sonata, saying: ‘There are only two kinds of music—good music and bad music.’ Following his Jerusalem recital, a fanatical young man attacked him with an iron bar, injuring his right arm. Heifetz then toured Italy and Europe, shrugging off his pain. In 1959 he performed for the United Nations General Assembly but in the 1960s he began to confine himself mainly to the West Coast of America; chamber music also loomed larger in his life, through the Heifetz-Piatigorsky Concerts. Having given his last concert in 1972, he grew increasingly reclusive; and he died in Los Angeles on 10 December 1987.
Whereas our first volume of the Heifetz Deccas included much popular fare, reflecting the material he gave the troops on USO tours, this second tranche is much more classical in character—even if, like Track 1, it is classical at one remove. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco was an Italian composer whom Heifetz championed from the early 1920s. When he moved to the United States to escape Mussolini’s anti-Semitic laws, Heifetz continued to help him and the most spectacular outcome of their collaboration was this brilliant paraphrase on Figaro’s opening cavatina from The Barber of Seville. Note Heifetz’s superb harmonics. Dvořák’s Humoresque, a piano piece, is often heard on the violin in transcriptions by Wilhelmj or Kreisler but for his only mature recording, Heifetz made his own version with prominent double-stops: it is elegantly played with nice rubato. Godowsky’s piece distils a mood of nostalgia; the Ravel, which began life as a wordless vocalise, gets a sinuous rendering; and the Debussy pieces are delightful: the Golliwog, returning to its roots in America, struts with fine rhythm and the other two, both utilising the mute, are lovely. Waves at Play, by the American violinist-composer Edwin Grasse (1884–1954), conveys its fluidity through rapid runs played ‘on the string’. Whereas the two Prokofiev pieces display Heifetz’s trenchant rhythm, the Preludes by Shostakovich are contrasted: the first, transcribed by violinist Dmitry Tsyganov, the composer’s closest chamber music colleague, is muted and very beautiful; the second features almost nonchalant spiccato and staccato. Two pieces take Heifetz back to his beginnings in the Russia of the Tsars: Rimsky-Korsakov’s aria is given a true vocal quality, while the Tchaikovsky, a violin-and-piano original, is insouciantly delivered with trademark Heifetz staccato. The pieces by Chopin, Brahms and Schumann showcase the violinist’s immaculate double-stopping (like the Gluck, a Kreisler standard, the Chopin and Schumann are Heifetz’s only recordings of these items). The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals is given subtleties not contemplated by Saint-Saëns, including being played with the mute. We hear good rhythm and excellent trills in the Dance by Alexander Krein (1883–1951), bestknown member of a clan of Russian Jewish musicians. And finally we have four bonuses, from V-Discs made for distribution to the armed forces. The Dohnányi, part of a series that the composer recycled in various instrumentations, is required to be played ‘alla zingaresca’, in gipsy style. The Schubert, which in its piano version tests the player’s cantabile, rather loses its point when played on a sustaining instrument—and the arrangement includes a most un-Schubertian modulation! Sarasate’s sultry Romanza and heel-tapping Spanish Dance were both in Heifetz’s recital repertoire at this time (the Zapateado, which actually originated with Mexican Indians, was hijacked by Flamenco dancers). Soon after the Dohnányi recording, the Bell Telephone Hour conductor Donald Voorhees wrote that Heifetz ‘makes it a point to know every note in the selection he is playing, in addition to his own. He loves to fiddle, his rehearsals are a treat, and he goes on for hours. We often have to call a halt, reluctantly. In fact, I never heard him play a bad note’.
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Heifetz, Jascha: Miniatures, Vol. 2 (1944-1948)