Isaac Stern Live, Vol. I – DOREMI

by | Mar 18, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Isaac Stern Live, Vol. I = Works by Mozart, Sarasate, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Tartini, Kreisler, Dvorak, Prokofiev – DOREMI DHR-8166/7 (2 CDs) 72:00; 71:50 [] *****:

Isaac Stern (1920-2001), in my humble opinion, will forever embody a paradox: a committed musician and philanthropist on the one hand, Stern could contrarily practice a kind of territorial despotism – particularly related to “his” Carnegie Hall – that testifies to a real insecurity as to his celebrity status. One merely needs to read the memoirs of such contemporary violinists Aaron Rosand , Ivry Gitlis, and Berl Senofsky to gauge the extent of Stern’s dominance in Columbia Artists Management and the kinds of exclusivity Stern could apply. This first disc from DOREMI, the first of a projected five installments, comes from two distinct periods, from 1950 and 1955, and from a later recital from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 22 January 1969. 

The first offering, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with Stern and Serge Koussevitzky, remains special, if only because Koussevitzky, for all of his devotion to Tchaikovsky, never commercially recorded the work. In Boston.  Pristine Classical has already issued the performance (PASC 519), but it does us no harm to have an alternative edition.  From Boston, however, the Mozart G Major Concerto with Charles Munch (16 April 1955) projects great persuasiveness: fleet, well intoned, and brisk in all parts, including the cadenzas. The pert gavotte that appears in the last movement Rondeau: Allegro has a staid, courtly formality that makes it instantly attractive. In the 5 December 1955 appearance at the Bell Telephone Hour and Donald Vorhees, Stern pays sweet homage to one of Fritz Kreisler’s “antique discoveries” that most likely belongs entirely to Kreisler. The Sarasate Caprice Basque has the rhythmic flair and biting bow technique we know from such luminaries as Ricci and Milstein. At least, Stern still had kept up his practicing, a trait not always perceptible in his late 1960s recordings, whose intonation could be faulty and the approach overly sentimental.

Disc 2 provides the concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music with Stern’s faithful collaborator, pianist Alexander Zakin (1903-1990), Stern’s accompanist, 1940-1977. All of the pieces on the recital have commercial release except the Burlesque by Josef Suk The Four Romantic Pieces by Dvorak receive the abbreviated version, without the repats Stern adds for his CBS release for 9 February 1969. Each of the Classical works: the Tartini, Beethoven, and Mozart moves in relatively brisk tempos, but the warmth of the playing compensates for the glibness or the missed beat. The level of technical proficiency remains sturdy if not polished; but this repertory finds a sympathetic response in Stern, who always has a soft spot for Prokofiev -savor his Andante from the D Major Sonata – and Mozart. There exists a natural rapport between Stern, Zakin, and the Brooklyn audience at the time, and Stern’s announcement of the one encore, Mozart’s Rondo in C, K. 373, brings a generous reaction after the performance. To paraphrase a remark about Herbert von Karajan by fellow conductor Bernard Haitink, here in regard to Isaac Stern, “he could be a good musician, when he wasn’t building and consolidating his empire.”

—Gary Lemco

Isaac Stern Live, Vol. I:
TCHAIKOVSKY: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35
MOZART: Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
SARASATE: Caprice Basque, Op. 24
TARTINI (arr. Kreisler): Violin Sonata in G Minor “Devil’s Trill”
BEETHOVEN: Violin Sonata No. 7 in C Minor, Op. 30, No. 2
PROKOFIEV: Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94b
DVORAK: Four Romantic Pieces, Op. 75; SUK: Burleske, Op. 17, No. 4
MOZART: Rondo in C Major, K. 373

Isaac Stern, violin
Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Serge Koussevitzky (Tchaikovsky)
Charles Munch (Mozart)
Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/ Donald Voorhees
Alexander Zakin, piano

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