BEETHOVEN: Triple Concerto; BRAHMS: Double Concerto – Isaac Stern (v.) / Leonard Rose (c.) / Eugene Istomin (p.) / Cleveland Orchestra/ George Szell – Doremi

by | Apr 23, 2017 | Classical Reissue Reviews

The Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio and George Szell make a Cleveland Orchestra evening quite compelling.

BEETHOVEN: “Triple” Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C Major, Op. 56; BRAHMS: “Double” Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in a minor, Op. 102 – Isaac Stern, violin/ Leonard Rose, cello/ Eugene Istomin, piano/ Cleveland Orchestra/ George Szell – Doremi DHR-8047, 71:20 (11/18/16) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The Cleveland Orchestra concert of 13 July 1966 under the direction of George Szell holds special prominence in the quality of the guest-soloists, the esteemed Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio (1961-1984). Captured in brilliant, clear sound, the performances resonate with the high-energy, driven, linear momentum typical of George Szell and his honed Cleveland ensemble.

The Beethoven 1803 “Triple” Concerto remains a unique moment in the composer’s creative output, a kind of Classical “concerto grosso” tailored so that the cello will lead off each melodic period, and the writing itself will eschew the tricky harmonic syntax we associate with Beethoven’s “middle style” of development. Each of the three instrumentalists will receive exposure in runs, chordal, and scale patterns, the music harmonized to add a symphonic breadth to the tuttis and retain an intimate, expressive character in the chamber-music episodes. The featured trio of soli here appear in good form, with Stern’s intonation direct, piercing, and less “flabby” in what would soon dominate his technique after his collaboration with Ormandy in Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. Likely, with all of his “political” maneuvering, Stern found little time for practice. The sure tone and generous sonority of Leonard Rose literally holds the piece together; while the piano part – conceived for Beethoven’s sponsor and friend Archduke Rudolf of Austria – finds sweet, alluring, and fluidly plastic realization from Eugene Istomin. The muscular power from Szell consistently injects a nervous vitality into the mix, abetted by precise entries from French horn, oboe, low strings, and timpani in the course of a thoroughly compelling reading. The Largo movement – introduced by Rose almost like a serene cello concerto – still reigns as among Beethoven’s loveliest ideas, but he subjects it to but brief development; then, he scampers into a Rondo all Polacca set as a series of variants shared by the instrumental trio. Suddenly, the music shfts into duple time for the pompous yet playful Allegro, in which Istomin shines. With the return of the quickened polonaise, the music ascends to a potent, jovial conclusion in a work still all-too-underrated in the Master’s catalogue.

The Brahms 1887 Double Concerto meant to heal a rift between the composer and violinist friend Joseph Joachim, who had separated from his wife over an alleged affair with publisher Fritz Simrock. The work also “translates” the composer’s affection for Baroque forms and the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante, which this hefty piece often imitates. Brahms approached the sonata-form structure of this late work with a relative freedom of expression, varying repeats of themes and altering the order of entries. The thematic content, for Brahms, seems rather Spartan, spare in phrase lengths and reticent emotionally. But the instrumental writing proves often virtuosic, and the powerful orchestral tuttis – especially from Szell – thunder and erupt with vivid energy. The Cleveland woodwinds, well noted for their sonorous accuracy, enhance the thick string textures from all sources, soli and orchestral. The first movement recapitulation undergoes extensive development and variation, literally a sub-text in itself. Stern and Rose appear alert to each other’s sound, blending with and opposing each other with equal intensity, especially in the melody marked dolce, which sails high, even by standards set by Brahms.

A fine French horn and accompanying winds announce the ternary form Andante, which Rose enters first. The lyrical melody conveys all of the tenderness of a fine lied for both instruments, which Clara Schumann recognized as a “sign of reconciliation” between Brahms and Joachim, who had not spoken together in years, since Brahms had sided with Frau Joachim. Flutes, bassoons, and clarinets color the sudden thrusts of emotion from the instrumental duo, and the music becomes, momentarily, extremely elevated. The orchestral pizzicatos that support the melodic tissue retain an artful resonance throughout. The muted haze of the horn and winds gives the last pages of this sweet movement a lyrical sense of valediction. Leonard Rose first announces the gypsy rondo theme, then Stern, then together, and the orchestra volcanically erupts into a full statement, allegro marcato, as played. The Cleveland French horn keeps a close, velvet glove on the secondary theme.  Soon, bassoon, oboe, and flute provide supply a secondary idea, rather staggered in rhythm. Stern and Rose intertwine in sonorous balance as the development embraces a world of orchestral color, finally managing to lighten the otherwise somber atmosphere. The three, massive concluding chords ring down a long-delayed, rapturous zeal from the Cleveland audience.

—Gary Lemco

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