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Isaac Stern (violin)
Live - Volume 5
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (1806) [41:38]
Romance no.2 in F, op.50 (1805) [9:30]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Double Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, Op.102 (1887) [32:49]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 (1844) [26:36]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor Op.22 (1870) [22:42]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Počme Op.25 (1896) [17:20]
rec. 1951-1980
DOREMI DHR-8135-36 [74:32 + 76:18]

It’s inevitable that there is a generous amount of repertoire duplication in the series of discs celebrating the centenary of Isaac Stern’s birth (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3 ~ Volume 4). There is a formidable array of live concerto performances in this latest twofer, covering the years 1951 to 1980, though Stern’s performances of them in other studio contexts will be, in the main, very well known.

That’s certainly the case with the Beethoven and Brahms Double Concerto which occupy the first disc. The Beethoven comes from 1958 in a French performance directed by Josef Krips in a slightly top-cut sounding transfer with a prominent hum that suddenly disappears at 8:37, toward the end of the Larghetto. Parisian orchestras of the time had notably strong tonal characteristics and this applies as much to the Orchestre National de l’ORTF here, as it does to l'Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, Paris when Carl Schuricht directed it, at around this time, in his complete Beethoven cycle or when Beecham was recording in the city. There’s a lithe quality to the strings and a personality in the winds that ensures that nothing declines into a routine orchestral tapestry. Stern is neither grandiose nor seraphic in this work, playing with a naturalness and fluency that are wholly admirable. In the Brahms Double we have something of a dream team: Stern, Leonard Rose and Ormandy. The orchestra is the same but we jump forward to 1972. Strangely, the corporate tempos remind me more of the recording the two string players made with Bruno Walter in 1954 than the 1964 recording they made in Philadelphia with Ormandy. Unlike the compromised mono in the Beethoven, we hear this performance in fine stereo and the interweaving of the solo lines with the tightly piping winds give this live performance distinction.

The earliest broadcast in the twofer is the 1951 Concertgebouw Mendelssohn directed by Rafael Kubelík, then in the early stages of his tenure as conductor of the Chicago Symphony where Stern was a welcome visitor. Orchestrally the sound perspective is constricted though the solo violin is well centred. This a typically good Stern reading – the earliest surviving example I know is his 1945 broadcast with Pierre Monteux – in which he balances masculine heft with supple lyricism. The last three items come from 1980. Wieniawski No.2 was really one of his party pieces and few could match him – try the 1946 Kurtz or the 1957 Ormandy – but by now his tone has lost its lustre, with an allied roughness to it, and his intonation goes awry from time to time. With obvious technical difficulties in the passagework, I’m afraid this isn’t going to cut any kind of mustard. Emmanuel Krivine accompanies competently as he does in Chausson’s Počme, which Stern recorded in Paris with Barenboim, but Stern is too heavy and unyielding a player for it. A fortnight later Stern joined Claudio Abbado for Beethoven’s Romance in F major.

This is a difficult kind of release to recommend wholeheartedly. Both concertos on the first disc are finely played but the Beethoven is sonically compromised, and Stern’s studio legacy is a better bet in both cases. The Mendelssohn is excellently played but again murkily recorded and the 1980 performances show him in decline.

Jonathan Woolf
 
Performance details
Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Josef Krips, 18 September 1958 (Beethoven Concerto)
Orchestre National de France/Claudio Abbado, Paris, 28 June 1980 (Beethoven Romance)
Leonard Rose (cello)/Orchestre National de l’ORTF/Eugene Ormandy, 21 January 1972 (Brahms)
Concertgebouw/Rafael Kubelík, 21 June 1951 (Mendelssohn)
Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonic/Emmanuel Krivine, 14 June 1980 (Wieniawski, Chausson)




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