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Reviews: Beethoven & Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos - Heifetz/Munch

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Reviews: 12

Review by JW September 25, 2004 (2 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Even better than the Living Stereo Tchaikovsky? Well, I'm inclined to say yes. These are the two LS discs I bought. My system tends to render music on the 'solid state' side of life and hence I have never found classical reportoire a particular strength of it. But this music and recording is really something. The nature of the music uses the full orchestral weight and the recording communicates this very well. The soundstage is expansive. Overall it seems to me more powerful than the Tchaikovsky, both musically and judged from an orchestral perspective. The Tchaikovsky seems more distant in comparison.

Just the sonics this time, because neither piece needs any introduction.


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Review by peteyspambucket September 28, 2004 (3 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
My goodness! What an incredible delight this SACD turns out to be.

Heifetz is mostly isolated on the center channel, and the orchestra is at times at (realistic) dynamics that would cover the soloist otherwise. It's great fun to be able to know that I can just turn up the center channel if I wanted to hear him louder. I highly recommend this recording.

The performance is unquestionably the most exciting I've ever heard, and I think everyone else today is trying very hard not to imitate Heifetz's strokes of genius.

It gives me great hope that the rest of this series (as well as the Mercury Living Presence) will be a pleasure to all who purchase them.

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Review by thepilot October 18, 2004 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Rumour has it that many recording engineers have lost their sleep, after the living presence and living stereo reissues. It is not a small thing after all, to have recordings that sound much better than many modern super-duper DSD multichannel recordings, and we are talking about 3 channel analoque recordings that are 50 years old!. This living stereo combines definitive performances by two of the giants of the gramophone and modern classical music and sound quality that has to be heard to be believed. Smooth, velvety strings that glide and soar like the wind, luscious wind that enthrall the listener and a sound stage dimensionality that makes most of the currrent 5ch SACD's sound flat and lifeless. Indispensable!

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Review by Cellophile November 6, 2004 (10 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
These reissues are undoubtedly amongst the most treasured recordings of these fine pieces. There must be 50 or more interpretations of the Beethoven currently available, but you must hear Heifetz. No schmaltz. He articulates Beethoven as Beethoven wrote the concerto. The emotion is the music. No extra added flourishes are needed. In fact, they can easily be a negative, so well constructed is this work. The Mendelssohn is also spectacular. Listening to Heifetz makes one wish he were alive in his heyday. It makes you wonder what Paganini really sounded like! The tempi are fast, yet it doesn't sound rushed at all. Heifetz articulates every note; his technique is incomparable.

As a child, I wore out the grooves on this recording.

The recording quality is remarkable. The Beethoven is in 2ch, even on SACD "multi", because the original recording was stereo. But the Mendelssohn master is 3ch, and is thus presented. The center channel stabilizes the position of the violin. No "sweet spot" sounds good from any part of the couch! The clarity is surprisingly good considering a 50+ year old tape. Current recording engineers could learn a thing or two from these old gems. The SACD rendering truly gives you the feel of analog, the warmth of the violin, while adding dynamic range and soundstage. The CD layer is also quite good, just a little restricted...only in comparison to the SACD.

After this purchase, I am seriously thinking of buying all the rest of the "Living Stereo" series. And I hope that all those legendary performances get their tapes dusted off, and made into SACDs

I don't care how many versions of these concerti you have...If you don't have a Heifetz recording you are missing out, and this SACD is the one to have. Go buy it now.

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Review by Johnno December 9, 2004 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Amazing, perhaps, I had never encountered these classic recordings before purchasing the "RCA Living Stereo" SACD set and so it was a wonderful experience for me to hear them for the first time. The Beethoven is truly exceptional and it is one of the two or three finest performances of the work I have heard. The tempo for the finale of the Mendelssohn is perhaps a shade on the fast side but the sheer brio of it sweeps one along, while the beautiful slow movement is as poetic as one could wish for. Heifetz' playing is glorious throughout and Munch's accompaniments are in much the same league.

Both recordings are remarkable for their clarity and projecting Heifetz' violin so sweetly, while I was hearing all sorts of orchestral detail that normal seems to get obscured. As the performances are new to me, I obviously cannot say how the DSD transfers compare to the standard redbook ones but I suspect there might be a noticeable improvement

A great disc, and strongly recommended.

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Review by tream January 22, 2005 (6 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I am going to offer a different view on this recording than the other reviewers. First, the good news: the BSO plays magnificently, and my respect for Munch as a conductor continues to grow.(In my earler years I was much influenced by the writing of B.H. Haggin, who viewed Toscanini's work as definitive, and was extemely dismissive of Munch. One has to listen and make their own decisions.)

The first problem in the Beethoven is the recording perspective, which highlights Heifetz so much that this becomes a concerto for violin with background music. The second problem for me is that Heifetz plays this concerto as a series of problems to be solved, rather than than digging into it like other violinists do, and presenting it as the great work it is. I grew up on the Stern/Bernstein recording, and Stern, as an example, finds a lot more meat and meaning in this concerto than does Heifetz. The tempos are fast, to be sure, which by itself is not an issue for me (much better than dirge-like tempos), but I find Heifetz' work here to be skimming on the surface. I'm not crazy about the choice of cadenzas either-Auer/Heifetz in the 1st movement, Joachim/Heifetz in the 3rd. I really miss the Kreisler in the first movement, which to me sounds perfect for the music.

The Mendelssohn is better; in fact, brilliant (although I feel the need to listen to the piece about once every 10 years).

I'm not anti-Heifetz by nature-I find his work in late-romantic pieces to be almost ideal-but I don't buy the Beethoven (I also once owned, believe it or not, the 78's of the Heifetz/Toscanini recording).

The ratings are averages-2 stars for the Beethoven, and 5 for the Mendelssohn.

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Review by enterprise January 25, 2005 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I have the Beethoven concerto on a JVC XRCD (24 bit) disc that was released about a year ago. It was supposed to be "audiophile quality" and therefore charged a premium for it (about $35). I bought the RCA SACD for $8. The sound is fantastic and beats the JVC. Absolutely no comparison. Moreover, you get the Mendelssohn thrown in as well! This makes me wonder what happened in the JVC remastering. Maybe they were not given the original tapes! I'm sold on SACD remastering of these classics. Avoid those JVC XRCD discs. In fact, all of RCA SACD are better than the corresponding JVCs.

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Review by hanser February 21, 2005 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Hearing all that praise for the RCA series I ordered the Heifetz disc with Beethoven and Mendelssohn and was bitterly disappointed, sonically as well as by the interpretation (at least Heifetz´ take on Beethoven; the Mendelssohn is played OK). They ARE 50 year old recordings and you hear it and there is no way around it: lots of hiss, audible tape deteroiation (beginning of 3rd mvt of Beethoven), unnatural, flat sound of the violin (also a bit screeching, but without sparkle). I can´t believe that the recording quality is judged better than modern DSD recordings. This one at least can´t hold a candle to all Telarc, Pentatone, Channel and BIS SACDs I own or the Fischer/Dvorak and Bartok recordings on Philips.

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Review by Beagle March 15, 2005 (2 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I mostly review discs which give me joy; rather uncritical of me, no? Here's an unenthusiastic evaluation to even the score:

My apologies to Cellophile, with whom I usually agree; he is a sophisticated auditor and his enjoyment is obviously genuine. But I agree here with Tream's observation that the engineers spotlighted Heifetz -- relegating the orchestra to some backstage limbo? I picked this SACD up in a shop 'because it was there', but when I got home and played the disc, I was underwhelmed by its "not-thereness". When I played it again that evening, my musician wife enquired tactfully enquired "Is that an... 'old' recording?". Nessuna giustizia nel gusto.

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Review by Ivymike August 3, 2005 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Once again we have two different pieces recorded with two different technologies.

The Beethoven has never been a favorite of mine; I find myself "wandering" when I listen to it. Obviously, this is simply a matter of taste; please don't take umbrage with my comments if you are a fan of this piece. The sound, recorded 2-track in November, 1955, is good. By that late date in the 2-track era RCA had pretty much solved the hole-in-the-middle effect; the image of Heifetz is centered cleanly here unlike in the Brahms Concerto. Tape hiss is moderate in level. The image of the orchestra behind Heifetz is convincing. 2 1/2 stars for the performance, 3 for the sound.

The Mendelssohn is wonderful music beautifully recorded. Briskly played, it seems to come and go quickly. The sound is 3-track, with Heifetz strongly centered and placed somewhat in front of the orchestra. Imaging is wide and deep and the whole thing is a pleasure to listen to. 5 stars for the performance, 4 1/2 for the sound.

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Review by Celebidache2000 August 4, 2007 (5 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I had not heard a Heifetz recording in over ten years. I don't remember being too impressed with his fiddle playing the first time I investigated his recordings and I must say that I was not impressed this time either.

Heifetz has an awful tendency to rush through everything. He does not seem to ever relish the beauty of the music he's playing. In fact, he plays as if he's in a hurry to finish the performance so that he can get somewhere else. His fiddle playing sounds his mind is somewhere else and he's just on automatic pilot with the playing. There's almost no emotion in his playing. It's cool, automated, perhaps note-perfect but soulless. I don't enjoy Heifetz style at all.

With the Mendelssohn Concerto he rushes through the three movements so quickly that the music has no time to breath or develop. It's such a waste of a marvelous technique. If only Heifetz had invested any of himself in the playing. He's really just going through the motions (at a terrifically fast lick). I find myself completely uninvolved in this performance of the Mendelssohn Concerto, perhaps because Heifetz sounds uninvolved with the music himself.

The Beethoven Concerto for whatever reason (maybe the conductor deliberately put the breaks on Heifetz speed-demon tendencies) sounds less rushed than the Mendelssohn. Some of the nobility and beauty of the piece comes through surviving Heifetz' technical demonry (He reminds me for all the world of an android, a computer who can play perfectly but can't invest any life in the playing because there's none there to start with).

The recordings are simply marvelous, as are all the recordings in the re-mastered Living Stereo series. The Soundmirror team are giving us the master tapes pure and unadulterated at the highest level of fidelity that they have seen since the recording took place.

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Review by madisonears September 30, 2007 (8 of 13 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Heifetz seems as though he can hardly wait to get these performances over with. I guess a lot of people believe that fast playing is great playing, but I find them rushed to the point of spoiling this great music. Sure, Heifetz is technically marvelous, articulating all the notes perfectly, but he plays them so quickly that I just say "So what?". Of all the versions of these pieces that I've owned over the years, these are my least favorite. The cadenza chosen for the Beethoven is not nearly as good as the Kreisler version.

The recording is merely acceptable for this vintage, with the violin too prominent. There are many, many better sounding modern recordings of both works on CD, and the Pentatone SACD of the Beethoven with Grumiaux is far superior in every respect.

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