Isaac Stern on CBC-TV (1967)

by | Dec 18, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Isaac Stern on CBC-TV (1967)

Program: SCHUBERT: Sonatina in G Minor, D. 384; BACH: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004; MOZART: Adagio in E Major, K. 261; Rondo in C Major, K. 373; BRAHMS: Scherzo in C Minor from FAE Sonata
Isaac Stern, violin/ Alexander Zakin, piano
Studio: VAI DVD 4368
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen Black & White
Audio: PCM mono 
Length: 57 minutes
Rating: ****

Taped by Radio-Canada 12 February 1967, this program by Isaac Stern (1920-2001) and Alexander Zakin derives from the Music for a Sunday Afternoon series.  Stern is in good form at this point of his career, although he is on the verge of the long period (beginning around the time he recorded the Dvorak Concerto with Ormandy) when a definite schmaltz plagued his style and his lack of practice produced many a slurred note. The opening G Minor Sonatina of Schubert has a well-woven propulsion and sense of balance in the Allegro giusto, without Stern’s overemphasis on the upbeats. The camera comes in close for the Andante, then backs out slowly to sit on a long-held mid-range shot with Stern and Zakin in perspective. The Menuet and Trio enjoys a more rasping approach we will hear later in the Brahms Scherzo in C Minor. The last movement, Allegro moderato, is a gracious dance which pulls the camera back across Stern’s right shoulder and then on behind Zakin.

Stern himself introduces the Bach Chaconne, “one of the crowning achievements of Man in music. . .a series of variations of infinite variety. . .its variety of color takes on the depth of a man’s mind and heart.”  The lighting becomes notably darker as the camera approaches Stern directly in his face, while he plays with his eyes closed. The camera then moves to the end of Stern’s violin, a perspective shot along his left arm as his runs through the first two variations. The double-stop variation in 16th notes is framed on the bridge of the instrument. After the intense, almost feverish rendition of the Chaconne, Stern, wiping his forehead, introduces the Mozart pieces, which he credits with “warmth and poignancy” in the Adagio in E. Stern mentions the violinist Brunetti for the Rondo, “and as it always is with Mozart, it is marked with characteristic genius. . .one of the happiest pieces I know.”  Stern segues into a brief talk on the concluding Brahms piece, in which Stern speaks on Joachim’s motto FAE, which the violinist asked Dietrich, Schumann, and Brahms “to add to the combined, group abilities for a sonata.”

A decided chastity of approach informs Stern’s Adagio, a carry-over from the Bach. Stern negotiates the quick changes in the violin’s registration to produce a gratifying, affecting reading of the Adagio, originally intended as the middle movement for the A Major Concerto. The tiny cadenza has Stern employing his oboe tone with a spare vibrato. The Rondo begins immediately following the Adagio, with Stern playing grace notes and trills ad libitum. In the lyrical moments, the violin offers a lovely, seamless, coloratura aria. The dark, fitful chords of the Brahms open marcato, with leaning hard into the phrases, and even the calmer sections lack repose. Zakin’s contribution assumes symphonic proportions, and the camera hastens back and forth to capture the energy of the interchanges. The big trill marks the end of an intimate and musically devout Sunday afternoon recital.

–Gary Lemco

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