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Isaac Stern (violin)
Live - Volume 1
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky (Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch (Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3)
Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra/Donald Voorhees (Pugnani, Sarasate)
Alexander Zakin (piano)
rec. August 1950 Hollywood Bowl (Tchaikovsky), April 1955 (Mozart), December 1955 NBC Broadcast (Pugnani, Sarasate) January 1969 Brooklyn Academy of Music (remainder)
DOREMI DHR8116-17 [72:10 + 72:17]

The centenary of Isaac Stern’s birth has been marked in a number of ways. There’s a rather sketchy new biography, a massive Sony box set, and satellite releases such as this, the first in a series of live performances from Doremi.

The Tchaikovsky Concerto, live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1950 with Koussevitzky, is quite well-known and I last encountered it on Pristine Audio (see review) where the opening announcements, preserved by Doremi, had been excised. Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfer is superior to this Doremi one, which is steelier.

Mozart’s G major Concerto would seem to have been his favourite of the composer’s works for violin. He recorded it commercially twice and there are a number of live examples to supplement them. Here he is with Charles Munch and his Boston forces in April 1955 and this too includes one minute twenty seconds of pre-performance announcement. Apart from an unexplained one second buckle in the sound at 4:34 in the first movement the sound quality is reasonable and the performance significantly more than merely reasonable. Stern was a good Mozartian but was inclined to be a little sweet in the slow movements, as here, where, with a rather manicured approach to dynamics, the music doesn’t quite cohere. The finale, though, is rhythmically vivid and the interplay between soloist and orchestra finely judged. The performance is then duly back-announced amidst the applause. The last two items in the first disc come from the popular Bell Telephone Hour NBC broadcast of December 1955. As ever Donald Voorhees offers discreet orchestral support for the Pugnani-Kreisler Largo from the Third Sonata – discreet backing, rapt purity from Stern, a bit of persistent hum on the recording. This contrasts with the necessarily finger-busting bravura of Sarasate’s Caprice Basque which Stern plays with dashing skill.

The remainder of this twofer consists of a recital Stern gave with his ever-accomplished sonata partner Alexander Zakin at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in January 1969. The Devil’s Trill Sonata is buoyant and big-boned though Stern is inclined to rush a bit, here and there, and as he would doubtless have been the first to admit, Oistrakh was both the more proficient player of this kind of work and also rather more stylish too. I wonder if the Beethoven C minor sonata was being tried out ahead of Stern’s recording of it later that year with Eugene Istomin. In any case Zakin was a thoroughly adept partner and the result is crisp and exciting with a full expressive quotient in the slow movement.

Stern was somewhat more convincing in Prokofiev’s First Sonata than the Second – where once again Oistrakh loomed impossibly large – but he acquits himself commendably in this performance. It’s played with incision and admirable composure and incites premature applause from a clearly excited audience. He is parsimonious with Dvořák’s Four Romantic Pieces, each of which he cuts, but as his recording of the Concerto shows he was a no-nonsense interpreter of this repertoire, though not one quite without his sensitive side. Suk’s Burlesque was a favourite encore sweetmeat for him in those years and he drives through it at his long-established tempo showing firebrand bowing. He ends with Mozart’s Rondo in C major, K373 which he introduces to the audience with three pithy words; ‘Rondo by Mozart’.

There’s a brief one-page biography in the notes. These performances come from diverse sources. I prefer the Pristine Tchaikovsky transfer but have not found a competing version of the Brooklyn recital. There’s a great wealth of Stern material available so sift the repertoire here carefully to see if you need these ancillary live performances.

Jonathan Woolf

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [35:40]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, KV 216 (1775) [27:57]
Gaetano PUGNANI (1731-1798)
Largo; from Sonata No. 3 arr. Kreisler [4:00]
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Caprice Basque, Op. 24 (1881) [4:27]
Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770)
Violin Sonata in G minor “The Devil's Trill” Op.1 No.4 (1713/ 1740?) arr. Fritz Kreisler [12:38]
Ludwig van BEEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30 No. 2 (1803) [23:32]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 94a (1943) [19:02]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Romantic Pieces for violin and piano, Op. 75 (1887) [9:12]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Four Pieces, Op. 17 for violin and piano: IV. Burleska, JSkat 42 (1900) [2:55]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Rondo for Violin and Orchestra in C, K373 (1781) [4:49]

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