My friend Sherry Kloss sent me a newly-released 4-DVD-set of concerts from the Jascha Heifetz Society’s 2000 and 2001 concert series at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. The DVDs contain full-length recitals played by Sherry Kloss, Ruggerio Ricci, Erick Friedman, and Aaron Rosand. I thought I’d share a bit about them here.
There are times during Sherry Kloss’ recital, particularly during Heifetz’s transcription of Debussy’s “La Chevelure,” where she sounds remarkably like her teacher. It’s partly because she is playing on the Tononi violin that he willed to her in 1980, and it’s partly because she spent many years as his teaching assistant at USC. It’s the instrument that Heifetz used for the first part of his career. He knew that Sherry would do good things to honor his memory and preserve his legacy, and he was certainly right.
She begins her recital (with pianist Ralph Albertstrom) with a Heifetz transcription of a G-minor Sonata by Christoph Willibald Gluck. I couldn’t find any source for this transcription. Gluck wrote very little in the way of pure instrumental music, and though he did write six triosonatas, none of them happens to be in G minor. It also doesn’t really sound like Gluck. I wonder if Heifetz might have been pulling a “Kreisler” with this transcription (he might just have written the piece himself). Kloss follows the Gluck with a lovely performance of a Beethoven Sonata that she studied with Heifetz.
The rest of her program has Ned Rorem’s 1954 Violin Sonata, a not-necessarily-violinistic piece that takes a second hearing to appreciate. There’s some heartfelt music in it, particularly in the third movement, “A Funeral.” This DVD recording seems to be the only recording of the piece. It shares some spirit with Cyril Scott’s “Tallahasse Suite,” a piece that Heifetz recorded in the 1930s with Emanuel Bay. Nobody has recorded it since, until now.
Kloss incorporates several Heifetz encores (all Heifetz transcriptions) between her longer pieces, and plays an impressive "Sabre Dance," breaking what looks like half a dozen bow hairs in the process, and she ends her recital with Heifetz’s transcription of “The Sea Murmurs” by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, which is the way Heifetz ended his final recital.
This set also offers the last full recital of solo music that Ruggerio Ricci played. At 80, Ricci's hearing is not what it once was, but his memory is still astounding. He is a tiny man--perhaps only five feet tall, but he seems to fill the whole stage, and he commands total attention. He plays the Bach D minor Partita without repeats, and there are times when his intonation is uneven. The movements preceding the Chaconne unfortunately seem rather perfunctory, but he seems to care a great deal about playing the Chaconne, and there is a great deal to learn from his interpretation. The lapses in intonation are terribly sad, but he is still a physical marvel.
Watching Ricci play his transcription of Tarrega’s "Ricuerdos De La Alhambra" is fascinating. Watching (and listening to) his fourth finger do left-hand pizzicato, and watching his bow bounce in the upper half is a rare treat (one of my students said, “You and I put together couldn’t do that”). And then there’s the way he plays Wieniawski staccato etude, which is truly incredible. It just makes me laugh out loud to watch him play it, because there is nothing else I can do: there are no words to describe the supernatural-ness of it. How can anybody play the fiddle like this? Pagainini’s “Nel cor piu” is more of the same, and then some, and then some more, and some more. There is nothing perfunctory when he plays this repertoire (and happily very little that’s out of tune). Ricci is at his best when on the figurative violinistic high wire, doing flips while juggling lit firecrackers and swallowing swords. And he does it with no sign of difficulty. Nobody can touch him when it comes to this virtuoso solo repertoire. Nobody could touch him when he was younger, and nobody could touch him at 82. Not even Heifetz.
The only time I have ever seen Erick Friedman is on the Heifetz masterclass tapes from the 1960s. He was an extremely tall young man in his 20s. In 2000 he was an extremely tall man of 65--quite a shock. He also talks to the audience at some length, and with a great deal of humility.
I like his performance of the Grieg G Major Sonata (with Ralph Albertstrom) very much. After stating that nobody played French music like Heifetz, he plays the Faure Sonata with the same free rhythm and the same feeling of always being ahead of the beat that makes the Heifetz recording of that piece difficult for me to enjoy. His homage is genuine, but perhaps it’s a bit too genuine for me. Friedman plays the rest of the program--the Air from the Goldmark Concerto Paganini’s 20th Caprice (transcribed by Kreisler), Sarasate’s "Scherzo Tarantelle," Heifetz’s transcription of Debussy’s “Beau Soir” (Friedman's only Heifetz transcription), and Saint-Saens’ "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso"--from memory, so the camera can get great shots of his right hand and his left hand. Watching him play would be a great guide for tall violinists who have a whole different set of angles (at least a different set from the other violinists here) that they have to contend with in order to play the violin well.
I must confess that I have spent the most time watching and listening to Aaron Rosand’s recital, because watching him and listening to him makes me feel so good. He was 73 in 2000 (I have heard that he’s still going great guns in his mid 80s).
Simply watching and listening to Aaron Rosand play the violin has improved the way I play the violin. He is completely comfortable with the instrument, and he’s completely comfortable being expressive. His expression is so true, so natural, and it is so powerful that its impression lasts for hours and hours. Days even.
Yesterday I had a student who was not interested in using his fourth finger. He was also not terribly interested in holding is fiddle properly. I decided to play him Aaron Rosand’s performance of the Vivaldi-Respighi D major Sonata (now I finally know who wrote that piece, because it never sounded much like Vivaldi to me). I played my student a bit of the Bach Chaconne, and pointed out Rosand’s beautiful position, and his million dollar fourth finger (which is worth at least as much as his instrument, the 1741 ex-Kochanski Guarneri del Jesu). You wouldn’t believe the instant difference watching and listening to Rosand made in my student’s playing. My student understood what he needed to do, and he did it immediately. Rosand showed him exactly what is important, and why.
Rosand and his accompanist, Gerald Robbins, include five Heifetz transcriptions on their recital, including the Preludio XV by Vale, “Ao pe’ d fogueira,” which refuses to leave my head. How somebody could appear to be completely comfortable playing Ravel’s Tzigane is beyond the usual limits of my imagination.
The hall Rosand is playing in has more light than the hall used for the other recitals. He plays his entire recital from memory, so the camera can get great close action shots of his left hand and his bow arm.
The Jascha Heifetz Society hasn't yet updated the link for this on their website, but you can get a copy by sending a check to: Jascha Heifetz Society, P.O. Box 11656, Marina Del Rey, CA 90295. It's priced at $54.95 plus $4.00 in postage. It isn't being sold by a commercial entity, so the price basically reflects the cost of making the DVDs.