Isaac Stern: Keeping the Doors Open
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64 (1844) [28:18]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50 Ė First Movement only (1881-82) [18:26]
Isaac Stern (violin); Israel Philharmonic Orchestra/Leonard Bernstein
Isaac Stern (violin); Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Vladimir Horowitz (piano)
rec. July 1967, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (Mendelssohn); 18 May 1976, Carnegie Hall (Tchaikovsky)
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 75347 2 [47:10]

The first movement of the Tchaikovsky trio has been re-issued before on CD but, according to the booklet notes, the Mendelssohn, taken from an LP called Hatikvah on Mt. Scopus, has not been as fortunate. Itís surprising, given that Bernstein was on the rostrum, but then there are two studio recordings of the concerto with Ormandy with which we have long been acquainted, and one with Ozawa.

The Israel performance was seemingly spiced from at least two live performances in July 1967 in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I donít much care for Sternís way with this work. Thereís too much elasticity in the phrasing, too much indulgence. He warms up a bit after the introductory paragraph but the metrics are bumpy, the over-emphases pervasive. Thereís a rather manicured sense of self-satisfaction in the slow movement Ė it all sounds bogus to me Ė and the hushed diminuendos do nothing to heighten expression, merely draw the ear toward the questionability of their employment. The saving grace is Bernsteinís almost operatic lift to the melody lines. The finale is pleasant, pertly bowed, not over-pressed, but otherwise nothing special, except the well marshalled orchestral counter-themes. You know itís a lacklustre performance when you have to point out these kinds of things, rather than the soloistís contribution.

Sternís fake expression mars the opening of the Carnegie Hall performance of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Trio (all that was performed) in May 1976. His colleagues were none other than Rostropovich, who had recorded a classic performance with Kogan and Gilels back in 1952, and Horowitz, who hadnít played a chamber recital since the 1930s. The potential for disaster was considerable. The cellist, naturally, is the most idiomatic performer, playing with commendable sympathy and doing his best in those moments of unison with the violinist. Stern plays better as the movement develops but ensemble is sometimes sketchy. Horowitz is a passionate contributor, and the balance favours him to a large degree, spoiling ensemble potential, and spotlighting his out of scale contribution. The performance was given at what was called, with typical American understatement, ĎThe Concert of the Centuryí. Fischer-Dieskau, Menuhin, this trio of musicians, Bernstein and others turned up. There were no solos. The whole thing has been issued before.

This disc is released to celebrate Sternís contribution to the saving of Carnegie Hall, but I wouldnít especially commend either performance.

Jonathan Woolf

I wouldnít especially commend either performance.