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Isaac Stern (violin)
Live - Volume 2
Miriam Fried, Pinchas Zukerman, Sergiu Luca (violin)
Marlboro Festival/Alexander Schneider
Leonard Bernstein (piano)
Concertgebouw/Bernard Haitink
rec. February 1953, Salle Gaveau, Paris; January 1966, Carnegie Hall (Vivaldi, Mozart); October 1968 (Bartók)
DOREMI DHR-8128-29 [79:37 +79:19]

In February 1953 Isaac Stern and Alexander Zakin gave a recital at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. It’s been released before and can found on INA Mémoire Vive IMV 054. In some ways it’s an Old-New kind of recital with three sonatas, one for solo violin by Bach, mixed up with a piano-accompanied Vieuxtemps concerto, a programme redolent of pre-war practice but a practice that was dying out.

There is a sliver of an announcement before Beethoven’s Op.12 No.2 sonata where either Stern or the microphone slightly inflates the accompanying violin figures at the expense of Zakin’s primary melody as the music opens. This was something that, in the studio toward the end of the previous year, Schneiderhan was able to avoid doing with Kempff. But Stern was a more muscular and assertive Beethovenian than Schneiderhan, though not necessarily a superior stylist, and had his own approach to the sonatas and the concerto. He famously never recorded any of the sonatas and partitas of Bach and tended to offer a shrug when, in later years, he was asked why he hadn’t, though he did record the sonatas for violin and keyboard. It’s quite rare to encounter live examples of any of the solo sonatas but here is the G minor, BWV1001. He encounters some thickets in the Fuga where one can hear several instances of string touching and he doesn’t sound entirely convincing throughout, not least in the powerfully dispatched but rather showy Presto finale. Stern was always honest about his limitations in certain arenas, so perhaps he knew better than his admirers when he chose not to commit this body of music to the unwavering gaze of posterity.

By contrast Prokofiev’s First Sonata is much more his thing and he digs into its resinous intensity and if, in the final resort, he lacks Oistrakh’s variegated tonal resources as well as, ultimately, the security of his technique, then this is still a persuasive and strongly argued performance. Paganini’s La Campanella in the Kreisler arrangement is suitably fiery. He performed, and recorded, Vieuxtemps’s Second Concerto but the Fourth is another matter. His phrasing in the slow movement is appropriately rapt, his bowing in the Scherzo is lithe, and he is vigorous in the martial finale. The three self-announced encores include the slow movement of Haydn’s Concerto in C – the concerto for which Zakin wrote cadenzas for Stern and which Stern broadcast with Stokowski in New York in 1949 (it’s on Pristine Audio) – which is tastefully and chastely done. It’s followed by a favourite Stern dazzler, Suk’s Burlesque from the Four Pieces, which gets a bravura reading and whoops from the Parisian audience. He and Zakin finish with Kreisler’s Sicilienne and Rigaudon. The recorded sound is a little chilly.

The Vivaldi Concerto for four violins, a well-loved ‘friendship’ work for fiddlers, features Miriam Fried, Pinchas Zukerman and Sergiu Luca with the Marlboro Festival under Alexander Schneider. It was given in Carnegie Hall in January 1966 in tribute to Artur Rubinstein as was the Mozart Sonata in A where Stern was joined by Leonard Bernstein in a crisply characterised traversal, clearly quite well rehearsed. The final work is Bartók’s Second Concerto, a piece he recorded with Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Here he is joined by Haitink and the Concertgebouw in a live broadcast from October 1968. The conductor was to record it commercially the following year with Henryk Szeryng. Rugged and tensile but with admirable detailing, Stern excels in the music’s songful paragraphs as much as in its drama. I’d not come across this performance before but am glad I have heard it.

As before in this series - see review of Volume 1 - there’s a simple one-page biography of the violinist in which Maxwell Davies has become a mere Maxwell. Even though there’s a rather ungainly look to this – music from so many disparate sources over a 15-year timescale - there are enough good things to tempt even the Sternist sated by the vast Sony box, the new biography and other nuggets that have appeared this year.

Jonathan Woolf

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 12 No. 2 [18:05]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata for solo violin No. 1 in G minor, BWV1001 [13:00]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1892-1953)
Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80 [24:18]
Niccolň PAGANINI (1782-1840)
Violin Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 7: Rondo ‘La Campanella’ [4:35]
Henri VIEUXTEMPS (1820-1881)
Violin Concerto No. 4 in D, Op. 31 [19:28]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Violin Concerto No. 1 in C major, Hob.VIIa:1 – Adagio [5:34]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
Four Pieces, Op.17 No.4: Burlesque [2:57]
Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Sicilienne and Rigaudon in the style of Francoeur [3:16]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto, Op. 3 No. 10 'Con quattro Violini e Violoncello obligato', RV 580 [11:41]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Sonata No. 22 in A major, K305 [18:13]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Violin Concerto No. 2, Sz 112 [37:31]

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