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Not quite "Original Jacket" caliber...
on June 27, 2008
Of the several "Original Jacket" boxes that Sony has been issuing for the past decade or so the new Jascha Heifetz and Itzhak Perlman sets are the only two serious disappointments. Not that there's anything wrong with the music or the performances, far from it. Rather it's that the "Original Jacket" principle has been badly violated in these releases (see my review of the Perlman). The purpose of this series is to produce collections of CDs that are faithful replicas of their original LP incarnations in such fundamental matters as cover art and repertoire content. This the Heifetz and Perlman boxes fail to do. In the Heifetz box most of the CDs include cover art that has been substantially altered from that of the LPs and there are many wholesale and needless substitutions of repertoire as well. I shall list the principal instances:
CD 1: No RCA Red Seal ("Nipper the dog") or Living Stereo logos on the cover (copyright issues?). The LP contained the Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata and the Bach Concerto for Two Violins. The Kreutzer is gone and replaced with the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante and the Brahms Double Concerto. It's not an issue of adding bonus tracks but of REMOVING the ORIGINAL Beethoven piece which changes everything. This was done obviously because that's the way this material was previously released on the ordinary single CD. But this is the ORIGINAL JACKET COLLECTION for heaven's sake. What's the point otherwise? Somebody was just being lazy and didn't want to create a new master.
CD 2: Again no RCA logo. No Living Stereo banner which was so prominent in the original. The LP consisted of the Mendelssohn Concerto and the Second Prokofiev. The Prokoviev is gone and replaced with the Beethoven Concerto. Again this replicates the ordinary CD release previously available.
CD 3: The original LP had only the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The Brahms Concerto has been added here. Perhaps that's not a bad thing but the Brahms was originally released on LP as a boxed album with a nice photo of Heifetz on the cover and that's how it should have been presented here. Another filler could have very easily been found for the Tchaikovsky. The cover is missing the big black Living Stereo banner.
CD 4: This one is actually fine. The cover looks pretty much like the original, only the "Nipper" logo is missing (again copyright reasons?) The original Vieuxtemps 5th Concerto and Bruch Scottish Fantasy are present and the 1st Bruch Concerto makes a logical bonus without taking anything away. Why couldn't the other CDs have been treated in the same manner? Perhaps the project changed hands?
CD 5: The cover is fine. This album originally contained only the Sibelius Concerto. The Glazunov Concerto has been added plus the Prokofiev Second that should have been coupled with the Mendelssohn on CD 2!!!
CD 6: A classic cover that has fortunately left more or less the way it was. But again we encounter stupid and needless changes in content. The LP had the Korngold Violin Concerto and the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole. The Lalo is gone and replaced with the Miklos Rósza Concerto and the Waxman Carmen Fantasy. Fine pieces but the Lalo should have been retained as it was ORIGINAL to the album. The Carmen Fantasy could have been left out if space required it. Or they could have put the Rozsa in its own album with the Spohr Concerto No. 8 and the Tchaikovsky Serenade Melancolique (as in the original LP).
CD 7/8: Another one with no problems. The cover looks pretty much like the original box minus the "Nipper" logo. The three LPs have been combined on two CDs. That's fine with me.
CD 9/10: This is not an RCA but a Columbia issue. Heifetz in recital with Brooks Smith at the piano, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LA. The cover in this case is an exact duplicate of the original down to the Columbia Masterworks logo. The CDs follow the format of the LPs faithfully. If only most of the other CDs had!
Also, not to be a nitpicker but even the CD labels leave quite bit to be desired. CDs 1-8 are supposed to resemble the vintage and quite distinctive RCA Red Seal LP labels yet not even one of the CD labels is even RED!!! Needless to say the RCA Nipper logo is absent as well. Obviously not a lot of thinking went into producing this package. Heifetz fanatics might want to buy it for the Columbia/Sony live double album although even that has been released before and should not be hard to find. Most of the other discs are easily available separately with the same repertoire as in this box (some of them also available as SACD) so why bother.
It could have been sooo much better, with accurate presentation standards and with the addition of several other important albums that were left out (after all, most of the other boxes in this series contain from 12 to 15 CDs). Just a matter of being proud of what you do and wanting to present collectors with a job well done. This sloppy release shows laziness and carelessness. Since, as I have already mentioned, the presentation of most of this stuff is no different from what's already available individually this issue becomes, in the final analysis, a rather unoriginal, redundant and pointless compilation. What is perhaps the greatest shame is that all of this money and work was not spent on something we need much more: a Zino Francescatti Original Jacket collection. The large and priceless Columbia legacy of one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century lies pitifully neglected in Sony's vaults and needs desperately to be reissued. Yet Heifetz gets still one more totally redundant anthology that no one needs. Well, Zino, maybe next time...
To some of you out there who are all too quick to fly off the handle: notice that this is not in any way a negative criticism of Jascha Heifetz or of the recordings in question. I dearly love Heifetz's playing and have owned all of this material and much, much more since the heyday of LP. This review is concerned only with the disappointing manner in which the stuff has been presented here, considering what the original criterion was and also considering how great all of the previous releases of this series have been - all of which I own, by the way, including the huge Glenn Gould set (talk about a perfect, complete presentation!!!).
On the other hand, I have just acquired the latest "Original Jacket" 15-CD box which is dedicated to the 1960s RCA recordings of Montserrat Caballe and I must say that it's like night and day. The Caballe box is a nearly flawless model of everything that an Original Jacket compilation should be. It contains all of the single recital LPs exactly as they first appeared plus two of her best complete opera sets of that period, "Salome" and "Norma". Obviously someone else was in charge of this one.