Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Ludwig van Beethoven; Felix Mendelssohn - Violin Concertos (Jascha Heifetz)


Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven; Felix Mendelssohn
  1. Beethoven - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61: I. Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Beethoven - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61: II. Larghetto
  3. Beethoven - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61: III. Rondo
  4. Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: I. Allegro molto appassionato
  5. Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: II. Andante
  6. Mendelssohn - Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64: III. Allegretto non troppo - Allegro molto vivace

Jascha Heifetz, violin
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Charles Münch, conductor

Date: 1955, 1959
Label: RCA



Heifetz’s Beethoven Violin Concerto with Charles Munch is the greatest recording of its kind. It’s pointless in a work this lyrical and calm to accuse Heifetz of overpowering the music–he doesn’t–and while there will always be favorite versions that view the work from a more, well, “olympian” perspective (Oistrakh/Cluytens, or Menuhin/Furtwängler, for example), Heifetz and Munch play the music with a classical poise and chiseled perfection that is very special. In the first movement particularly, the swift basic tempo produces a tension, a quiet energy that seems very much to Beethoven’s point, while the Larghetto and Finale couldn’t be better paced. It goes without saying that Heifetz’s flawless intonation and ear-catching articulation leave most other players in the shade, and if this comes across as “cold” to some listeners then that impression cannot be due to any lack of nuance or sensitivity. 

As for the Mendelssohn, this is simply the greatest performance yet recorded. The work was made for Heifetz: Mendelssohn was himself a romantic of classical restraint and self-control–some might say inhibition–and in this work he created a virtuoso showpiece that requires total control over the instrument and, in the finale especially, hair-trigger precision. And my God, that’s just what Heifetz and Munch offer, in spades. The entire work flies by as if in a single breath, and the finale features some of the most astounding collaboration betweens soloist and orchestra that you will ever hear, anywhere. I truly pity violinists who have to play this work today after hearing this version. Maybe they shouldn’t.

Sonically the Mendelssohn, from 1959, is more naturally balanced and more vivid than the Beethoven of 1955. This coupling has also been released on SACD, reviewed by both Jed Distler and me previously, but to tell the truth this Living Stereo regular stereo edition sounds just fine, and it’s still available for around ten bucks. However you acquire these performances, no collection is complete without them.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday

More reviews:


Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His best-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa solemnis and an opera, Fidelio. Beethoven is acknowledged as one of the giants of classical music.


Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was among the most popular composers of the Romantic era. Like Mozart, he was recognized early as a musical prodigy. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, visited there ten times. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries.


Jascha Heifetz (February 2 [O.S. January 20] 1901 – December 10, 1987) was a violinist, widely considered to be one of the finest violinists of modern times. Born in Vilnius, Russian Empire (now Lithuania), he moved as a teenager to the United States, where he had a long and successful performing and recording career. His near-perfect technique is regarded by many critics as unequaled and caused some critics to accuse him of being overly mechanical, even cold. Heifetz owned the 1714 Dolphin Stradivarius, the 1731 "Piel" Stradivarius, the 1736 Carlo Tononi, and the 1742 ex David Guarneri del Gesù, the last of which he preferred and kept until his death.


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