A box of Heifetz

By Lawrence A. Johnson


I waited so long to write about the Jascha Heifetz Sony Original Jacket Collection ($79.98 at Amazon) that the label has since released three more sets of Eugene Ormandy, Montserrat Caballe, and another Leonard Bernstein box, which will be reviewed soon. In the meantime, here’s a brief take on the Heifetz set.

Aficionados will know these recordings intimately but younger collectors will want to snap up this box before it disappears. These extraordinary violin performances remain touchstones and have never sounded better than in these newly remastered versions. This limited edition 10-CD box concentrates largely on Heifetz’s concerto recordings and most of the essentials are here: magisterial Brahms and Tchaikovsky with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, Beethoven and Mendelssohn with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony, and the stunning recording of the Korngold concerto, a work which, though not written for him, seems eminently suited to Heifetz’s bright, diamond-like timbre.

Interpretively, the legendary violinist could be cool to the point of icy—as with his speed race through the slow movement of the Sibelius concerto. But at his best, Heifetz’s sinew and sweetness, vibrant tone, and astonishing technical security remain unequaled. Heiftez shined best, I feel, in his native Russian repertoire—Prokofiev’s irony and sharp angles suit him particularly well. My guilty pleasure of the set is the Glazunov concerto, which while not quite a masterpiece, is melodic, delightful and exhilarating (a brief bowing slip in the finale shows that even Heifetz was human). Also included are the complete Bach solo sonatas and partitas and the 1972 Los Angeles recital with Brooks Smith.

Columbia Masterworks vintage cover art was not exactly gallery material but the series’ exacting miniature reproductions of its albums are captivating and the box offer a shelf-saving way to nab some essential Heifetz.



Posted in CD/DVD

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Wed Aug 20, 2008
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