Isaac Stern: Keeping the Doors Open = MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64; TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50: Pezzo elegiaco – Isaac Stern, violin/ Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Vladimir Horowitz, piano/Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
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Keeping the Doors Open celebrates violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001), whose efforts to preserve Carnegie Hall (estab. 1891) from demolition included the “Concert of the Century” on 18 May 1976 to mark the hall’s 85th anniversary. The Mendelssohn Concerto from Tel-Aviv derives from a collaboration with Leonard Bernstein in July 1967 and issued on a disc entitled “Hatikvah on Mt. Scopus.” While we may support Stern’s myth as the great savior of Carnegie Hall, too often his defining role in the history of Columbia Artists Management–which decided who would actually appear in Carnegie Hall–we neglect or white-wash, forgetting how many talented artists suffered Stern’s despotic reign over those whom he considered a threat to his own repute.
Nevertheless, the two documents herein inscribed do Stern good service, considering how little he actually practiced in the late stages of his career. The Mendelssohn proceeds fluently, especially driven by Bernstein’s flair and exalted line. The Andante will appeal to the sentimental at heart, since Stern’s tone could be silky sweet when his fingers hit the pitches. The Allegro section of the last movement does get some fur flying in light, spirited colors. It may seem curious, however, considering the nature of the event, that a Stern performance from Carnegie Hall itself does not grace this album, perhaps the Dvorak Concerto that Stern performed with Dimitri Mitropoulos.
The eternal “draw” of the Tchaikovsky Trio fragment continues to be the appearance of Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989) in chamber music collaboration, a phenomenon the world had savored years before in Russia and Germany, when Horowitz, Gregor Piatagorsky, and Nathan Milstein had formed a mighty trio. Of course, the immense talent of Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), who sported the Duport Stradivarius of colossal tone adds immeasurably to the excitement of the occasion. The Pezzo elegiaco seems to be built on a series of monumental scales that crescendo and fall, the romantic riffs relatively conventional. Occasionally, a demonic burst of Russian rhythm and Motherland soul erupts, followed by tender musings in colloquy among the three principals. With the piano softer accompaniment supporting them, violin and cello sing marvelous duets as from some enchanted double concerto. When Horowitz cuts loose with his brilliant–lacquered-hammers–percussion, the sound remains indubitably his own. The transition to the recapitulation proceeds with dramatic intimacy, a real moment of studied ensemble.
The booklet itself invokes all sorts of fond memories of the 1960 effort to preserve Carnegie Hall, perhaps the most natural acoustical concert venue ever built. Recollections by Vera Stern bring us personalities like Mayor Robert Wagner and Carnegie Hall archivist Gino Francesconi, Leonard Bernstein, and Mrs. Vladimir Horowitz. Whatever Isaac Stern’s flaws as an individual, his artistic legacy remains intact, and so we honor him his valiant energy in behalf of this cultural landmark.
— Gary Lemco