Heifetz, the chamber musician

September 11, 2020, 7:18 PM · I would like learn more about Jascha Heifetz, the chamber musician. Thr first recording of his that I listened to was the Schubert Quintet that he recorded with Israel Baker on RCA. I found it to be scintillating: the edge and drive, or forward motion, in the strings is remarkable (quite the contrast with the Alban Berg quartet’s recording, which is rounded in comparison). Haven’t heard anything like it since. Any other recordings I should check out? Anyone get the chance to hear Heifetz live in a chamber music setting?

Replies (29)

Edited: September 11, 2020, 7:33 PM · I’m glad you started this topic. Heifetz’s chamber music recordings I feel have been overlooked. Love that Schubert you mentioned!

I highly recommend checking out the Mendelssohn Octet with Piatigorsky and their students. I also really like the Brahms Piano Trio recordings. Heifetz recorded the B Major Trio with Feuermann and Rubinstein, and the C Major Trio with Piatigorsky and Lateiner. There are a few other great trio recordings with Piatigorsky and Rubinstein I could go on and on about.

Edited: September 15, 2020, 6:04 PM · With Piatigorsky and Pennario, there is a fantastic Dvorak e-minor trio (Op 65). Beautiful ensemble playing, but breathtaking violin work.


Edited: September 11, 2020, 8:09 PM · The Alban Berg Quartet may have a rounded sound because both of the violinists have beards, which tends to soften the tone of one's violin.
September 11, 2020, 9:36 PM · My favorite is the Mozart Quintet in G minor.
Edited: September 11, 2020, 11:02 PM · What a wonderful coincidence.I was just given this vinyl of Heifetz playing the Mozart Quintet in G Minor and the Mendelssohn Octet.Its on the Living Stereo label LSC 2738.Wonderful recording.The timbre of Heifetz's Del Gesu is especially poignant with my Lyra Kleos cartridge( that's for you Paul!).
September 12, 2020, 12:41 AM · I love all of Heifetz's chamber recordings...for newbies check out his Brahms Piano Quartet, Op.60, the Dohnanyi Serenade, Mendelssohn trios...it's all so good!
Edited: September 12, 2020, 1:57 AM · I bought the Mendelssohn/Mozart LP in a sale in about 1970 and never much liked the performances, particularly the Mozart (the one that every second violinist will recognise as "sniff-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug-chug...) which I felt to be overdriven and lacking in charm. I'm now hearing it on youtube and am more favourably impressed. The sound is way better than I was able to get from my original vinyl pressing (although still rather 2-dimensional), but in the menuetto and finale don't they sound a bit like they're late for an appointment? The crux of the Mendelssohn occurs after the double bar of the first movement where I feel the inner parts fail to generate enough rhythmic tension before the big release.
September 12, 2020, 8:03 AM · Not chamber music, but I did hear Mr. Heifetz once, in a recital in Orchestra Hall in Chicago (had to be 1950's). Unfortunately, I do not recall what he played except for one piece, portions of which I still recall, like a video recording in my memory.

He played the Franck Sonata. I was sitting way up in the upper gallery, but the sound was like I was just a few feet away. The performance was vintage Heifetz - effortless, technically as perfect as one can get, and with that unique, thrilling sound that had the qualities of a human voice.

I have always loved his chamber music recordings.

September 12, 2020, 3:04 PM · If you wish to listen to Heifetz playing chamber music, I suggest you purchase the Heifetz Piatigorsky Concerts album collection. There are 21 CDs of Heifetz and Piatigorsky playing chamber music with some of the greatest musicians of their day, including Primrose, Pennario and Rubinstein. Some of the recordings are superb, while others are merely marvellous! These recordings show that Heifetz was not only one of the greatest violin soloists in history but also an excellent chamber musician.
Edited: September 12, 2020, 5:01 PM · To be Franck... his lack of repose (admirable drive?) in certain works (even when bathed in sweetness) keeps me away from particular chamber recordings, like the Souvenir de Florence. Of course this is totally subjective. What is perhaps not so subjective is the close microphone in other recordings that emphasize his part very much at the expense of the work as whole, as in his recording of the Schubert Piano Trio Op. 100, where Piatogorsky in the ravishing cello part of the second movement may as well be playing from the kitchen, and where even the pianist Lateiner loses detail. Of course, in the face of such monumental playing who could complain? (What! You're pointing at ME? Non non non...) Just sayin'
September 13, 2020, 5:51 PM · Actually I found Heifetz'z Franck too staid. And I'm an even bigger fan of Rubinstein than I am of Heifetz. But at the time I heard it, I was just too enamored of ASM's recording and I focused on studying her interpretations very closely because I was performing the third movement with a pianist friend. I'll listen again because the combined elegance of Rubinstein and Heifetz is pretty unbeatable.
September 13, 2020, 6:06 PM · You are in for a treat: His trio recordings are sublime!
September 14, 2020, 4:28 PM · I must confess that I listen to these recordings to enjoy the purity of the playing, and some delicious phrasing, but not for the works themselves. E.g. for the Schubert Quintet I listen to the Amadeus (DGG), or to Stern and Casals: the musics breathes, and unfolds with untold warmth.

The Dohnanyi Serenade on the other hand...

September 14, 2020, 6:59 PM · I sure would like to hear the Dohnanyi piano quintet with Rubinstein at the keys.
September 15, 2020, 6:09 AM · Paul Deck - interesting to hear that about beards affecting tone! Does it matter what kind of rosin you apply to the beards?
September 15, 2020, 12:40 PM · I believe I shared the following opinion on this website decades ago, but I still stand by it:
50 or more years from now, when a history of violin playing and violinists is written, two violinists will stand out as having had the greatest impact on this art - Niccolo Paganini and Jascha Heifetz (and NOT Jack Benny or Henny Youngman).
September 15, 2020, 6:02 PM · Stupid film, brilliant playing:


Edited: September 15, 2020, 9:30 PM · I completely agree with Peter and Steve's recommendations of the Mendelssohn/Mozart record. Best Mendelssohn Octet recording I've heard - all the others seem too slow and boring (especially in the last movement) in comparison to this lively rendition in my opinion. I love the Mozart G minor Quintet also on this album. Everyone played wonderfully and Heifetz stuck in some nice juicy slides as well!
September 15, 2020, 10:00 PM · The Mendelssohn Octet and Mozart G minor Quintet are contained In album #10 of the 21 CDs in the Heifetz Piatigorsky Concerts album collection which I previously mentioned. Primrose is on viola and Piatigorsky is on cello in both recordings. Marvellous!
Edited: September 15, 2020, 11:13 PM · Yes and the Mendelssohn Octet/Mozart G minor Quintet album is also #62 in the 104 disc complete RCA Victor, Jascha Heifetz Album Collection, released by Sony.
September 16, 2020, 9:31 AM · I go back and forth on their Mendelssohn Octet-- the first time(s) I heard it, it seemed a little dry and not quite theatrical enough. Some of that was probably the pressing, though, and the sound system. When you get drawn properly into that acoustical space, it is quite stunning.
September 17, 2020, 9:26 AM · I have a dear colleague who frequently played chamber music with JH at his house in Beverly Hills in the late 60's/early 70's, and said that JH was unusually sensitive in this genre...especially when students filled out the ranks of the ensemble. I've got to clarify with my colleague, though - I think JH refused to play Beethoven quartets, for some reason.

His recording of the Brahms A major sonata is uncharacteristically intimate...and the pianist doesn't sound like they are 3 rooms away (as is the case in other recordings).

Edited: September 17, 2020, 11:41 AM · Im listening to that JH Mendelssohn Octet again.The close micing is excellent, perhaps leaning towards an anachoic acoustic but quite acceptable. I just love the energy of the whole ensemble.Great drive.The last movement is the definition of driving tempo.
September 17, 2020, 12:27 PM · Jascha Heifetz was the hero of my youth!!
In 1939 I was 4 years old when I first "saw him" - my father had taken me to see the first run movie "They Shall Have Music" in which Heifetz and his playing have a major part. I have always remember the point at which I turned to my father and asked
"Is that a real man?"

It was my first movie experience and I do not remember if I was impressed by his phenomenal playing or my a 20-foot high face on the screen. Whichever, I have carried that memory for more than 80 years.

We did not have many recordings in our house, and what I recall is that they were all 78 albums of Heifetz playing a few of the great "romantic" concertos - so that informed my understanding of them.

So you can imagine my delight in 1950 when my father informed me that he was going to take me to see Heifetz perform the Beethoven Concerto with the Baltimore Symphony as my 16th birthday present. I was most impressed by how much the balance of violin "vs." orchestra matched that on our recording at home. And - Oh Yes!- those 3 pizz notes in the third movement sounded like pistol shots in that hall.

My unbroken chain of admiration continued until the summer of 1973 when I happened upon an LP recording of Heifetz playing two Mozart concertos in a music store in Redlands CA during an afternoon break in a masterclass i was attending held at Loma Linda University. I thought the way he played them did not capture the "Mozart flavor" as I understood it by then - I thought they were a bit "too Russian.". A few years later, after I had graduated from LPs to CDs I acquired Bach CDs by Heifetz and I did not like his Chaconne. And as my CD collection grew and I heard other interpretations of some of the concertos (especially the Tchaikovsky) I started to realize there were other ways to interpret these works.

But none of this belittles my admiration for Heifetz and my love of his playing (my iTunes lists many hundreds of Heifetz tracks - more than anyone else) but I think the increased access modern technology providees to the exquisite playing of so many fine musicians has helped to expand my own growth in musical understanding and tolerance.

Edited: September 17, 2020, 3:57 PM · Heifetz student Ayke Agus lectures and conducts masterclasses on the theme "Heifetz and the Art of Collaboration".

Not only did Ms. Agus study violin under Mr. Heifetz, she was also his in-house pianist after Brooks Smith retired. She also worked with him on many violin transcriptions. Ayke also completed Mr. Heifetz's transcription Gerswin's "An American in Paris" upon his request when he was too ill to continue the work. So, she is an ideal source of information on Mr. Heifetz's approach to performing chamber music.

September 17, 2020, 4:06 PM · Ms. Agus also authored the personal biographical account of her 15 years with Heifetz, his last years: "HEIFETZ As I Knew Him."
Edited: September 19, 2020, 8:14 AM · The Heifetz album called"Heifetz on Television" was my first vinyl Lp.It has the Bruch Scottish Fantasy on side B and the Bach Chaconne along with the Mozart Rondo on the A side.I played it obsessively when I was a kid.It came with a small 45 record with an interview with Heifetz.I love what he said about scales;
"Many students are afraid of scales because number one they don't practise them and you' re usually wary of something you don't know.So they are afraid of scales RATHER than scales being afraid of them." All said in his heavy Russian accent.Love it...
October 9, 2020, 8:59 PM · Good question. The tempi for some of the Heifetz/Piatigorsky performances are unconventionally fast. Whether you like them or not is entirely taste. Another issue for me is that the acoustic for many of them is dry and the miking close. The sound can be gritty and not terribly flattering.

That said, listen to the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence. The duet between the two men is miraculous. Heifetz's playing of the theme is extraordinarily beautiful. Then Piatigorsky (almost) matches him. Highest recommendation for the Souvenir.

To my taste, his finest non-concerto recordings from the sixties, and with really good sound, are the Gershwin Preludes and excerpts from Porgy and Bess, and the Saint-Saëns Sonata No. 1 with Brooks Smith. This latter captures the Heifetz sound well, and the performance is extraordinary. The final page of the Sonata is like a tornado. What a virtuoso!

October 9, 2020, 10:27 PM · Ill look for that Frederick.Thanks.

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