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Warsaw Philharmonic Archive – Stern and Rowicki
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Overture; Coriolan Op 62 (1807)
Violin Concerto in D major Op 61 (1806)
Isaac Stern (violin)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Witold Rowicki
Recorded November 1954 (Coriolan) and June 1966 (Violin Concerto)
CD ACCORD ACD 117-2 [52.40]

The Warsaw Philharmonic is releasing some intriguing performances from its archive and I shall be reviewing some of them in due course. The first to hand is a Rowicki-led duo, the first a muscular but controlled Coriolan overture from 1954 – in decent sound – and the second, the core, a Violin Concerto with guest Isaac Stern recorded in June 1966. As an accompanist on record Rowicki is best known for his many discs with his compatriot Wanda Wilkomirska and for a well-judged Rachmaninov Three with Malcuzynski but it’s good to hear him with Stern; he proves an astute foil.

Stern had recorded the Beethoven in New York with Bernstein in 1959 and was to do so again with the same orchestra under Barenboim in 1975. The Warsaw performance is full of his charismatic strengths in this work and full, too, of his unusual perception in matters of architecture and construction. In this he had few international peers; with Stern the development, inter-relation and fluidity of the work emerge with remarkable logic. The sense that some violinists cultivate here, of a supremely lyrical second movement ultimately unrelated to the surrounding ones never appears with Stern. He has a gimlet eye for structure. The Warsaw recording is rather cold sounding – the timpani taps are dead and hollow and there’s something of a big echo once we are underway but the audience is commendably quiet. Stern is powerful in the opening movement, utilising some intense fingertip vibrato and expressive diminuendi to heighten feeling – but there are few slides to speak of. In the slow movement the clarinet is very much to the fore and there is as a result an interesting ensemble perspective, if not an especially natural one. Stern’s playing here is masculine and somewhat aloof – the opposite of the reposeful generosities of more feminine interpreters – very different from say Francescatti’s insinuating sweetness. A problem is that the recording tends to make him sound simply too loud, as if he is consistently over projecting. There is also a very bad if small patch of tape wow (I’m not sure if the similar problem at the end of the first movement is Stern playing momentarily flat or tape wow – I suspect the latter). There’s drama without self-consciousness in the finale and a strongly leonine cadenza that exploits all Stern’s considerable flair.

So this is a useful adjunct to Stern’s commercial discography. I wouldn’t recommend it above the known recordings and those imperfections I’ve noted above may prove troublesome but Stern always had strong and important things to say in this repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf


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