Isaac Stern Performances (1965/1973)

by | Feb 26, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Issac Stern in Concert 
Program:  MOZART: Violin Concerto no. 3 in G Major, K. 216; Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219 “Turkish”; Adagio in E Major, K. 261; BACH: Adagio and Fugue from Sonata No. 1 in G Minor for Solo Violin, BWV 1001; GEMINIANI: Sonata in D Minor for Violin and Basso Continuo; KREISLER: Schoen Rosmarin
Performers: Isaac Stern, violin/Alexander Zakin, piano/Chamber Orchestra of             Radio-France/Alexander Schneider
Studio: EMI Classics DVD 50189793
Video: 4:3; color and black&white (1965 encores)
Audio: PCM Mono
Length: 78:10
Rating: ****

These performances 1965 (encores) and 1973 (Mozart) capture American violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001) in good form, certainly playing with more exactitude and less schmaltz than this period produced in his commercial CBS recordings of the Dvorak Concerto and its ilk. Working with chamber musician and gracious conductor Alexander Schneider and his long baton (broadcast 27 December 1975) in an intimately set studio, Stern performs his most frequent concerto, the Mozart G Major, with easy grace and forward motion. There are several pregnant hesitations in the musical line to provide luftpausen and romantic ardor, but the essential, youthful, classical spirit of the piece is preserved. A few dropped notes do not detract from the arched beauty of line Stern projects, and his eye contact and sympathy with the sculpted gestures from Schneider give the camera something to follow besides the movement of his Stern’s fingers. The Adagio proves especially poignant, mellow, and lyrically affecting. Nice interplay between principals–like the bouncy oboe–for the Rondeau finale, good spirits all around.

The Mozart A Major Concerto (broadcast 28 February 1975) has Stern raising the musical ante a bit, urging a more exalted line for Mozart’s greatest of his violin concertos. Fast vibrato and economy of gesture from Stern move the brilliant filigree at a rapid pace for the opening Allegro aperto. The camera does linger over Stern’s fingerboard for the cadenza, sometimes shooting from the neck of the violin down to Stern’s rapt profile. An expansive reading of the Adagio has us wondering if this music were Mozart’s “pastoral symphony” for violin and orchestra. Stern exerts utmost care to etch his phrases, the tiny ornaments and non-harmonic notes passed off with blithe grace. The Turkish March (janissary) element canters with feline, suave motion; Stern adds a brief solo segue ad libitum. We can envision a grand dance in Mozart’s musical seraglio. The quiet close does not belie the fine passion of the conception.  The little Adagio in E (broadcast 11 April 1975) opens with the string players against a black background, but the performance is all sun and air, again with slickly polished phrases from Stern, and a sterling dimuendo here and there. The joie de vivre in Schneider’s face is no less worth the price of admission.

When we consider that Stern never inscribed the complete Bach violin sonatas and partitas, we must count ourselves grateful to see him proffer even an excerpt from these mighty pieces.  Stern is palpably perspiring under the hot lights (before a small, select audience) of the Salle Gaveau in Paris, (1 April 1965), but his command of Bach’s fierce lines pours forth cleanly and vibrantly. The fugue Stern takes eyes closed, the various registrations of the counterpoint thrown into high, intense relief, the “dancing rocks” from Coleridge’s Kubla Khan.  The Geminiani Op. 1, No. 12, “Impetuosa” Sonata opens in a galant style, with liquid accompaniment in the amoroso section from the faithful Alexander Zakin. The Allego is all sparks and explosive motion in the Corelli tradition. The camera is right up in Stern’s face and bow arm, only pulling back to segue into the closing Allegro, a leaping, dynamic figure that becomes both chromatic and febrile at once. At last, the genial Schoen Rosmarin of Fritz Kreisler, a Viennese lollipop at the end of a violin bow, played with facile aplomb that takes us to a Sunday beer garden for casual, charmed recollections.

Typical of EMI, each band on the video Mozart menu must be addressed individually to proceed with the concerts. [Who programs these DVDs?…Ed.]

— Gary Lemco

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