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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, KV 216 (1775) [25:31]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op.77 (1878) [39:46]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Concerto in D Op 61 (1806) [43:19]
Isaac Stern (violin)
NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo/Kurt Wöss (Mozart, Brahms) Jean Martinon
rec. September 1953 (Mozart, Brahms) and October 1953, Tokyo Metropolitan Hibiya Public Hall
KING INTERNATIONAL KKC 2003-04 [66:04 + 43:19] 

Experience Classicsonline

King International Inc. - which sounds like a firm of monarchical speculators (but isn’t) - has begun to release a series of highly exciting concert performances given in Tokyo in the 1950s and 60s and beyond. The resident NHK orchestra, in this case, is conducted by Kurt Wöss, known to the LP collector via his work on Remington and other smaller labels, and by Jean Martinon. The main focus of interest here is Isaac Stern.
The three concertos were part and parcel of his concert and studio life but to hear performances taped during a Japanese tour adds quite some spice to the proceedings. His Mozart G major is deftly pointed, and well characterised, but I wouldn’t cite Stern as the Ideal Mozartian. His slow movement is sweetly sung, but it’s very slow and drifts elastically until things positively droop at phrase endings. If you can cope with this sluggish approach - very beautifully done but still somewhat precious - then you will enjoy his playing. There are ancillary ‘noises off’, as one might expect of a concert performance, and the orchestra is really only adequate, however adeptly directed by Wöss. The 1953 tape sound is quite brittle.
The Brahms was performed at the same concert, and is by some distance the better performance; albeit the same orchestral frailties are evident - the NHK is a wholly improved band these days, immeasurably superior now in all respect. Stern’s well known strengths in Brahms, as evidenced in his studio recordings, are reprised here. He plays with a communicative classicism that embraces romanticised rubati - which elongates but never breaks the line - and which vests the music sometimes with a heartbreaking sense of pathos. Try 9:45 into the first movement for his most acutely perceptive thoughts on the balance between externalised vigour and intimate expression. There are a few very minor intonational slips, but the chording is princely, the portamenti, when used, discreet and highly effective expressive tools, as they should be. The orchestra remains rather bluff; the brass make a bit of a hash before the first movement cadenza; and the oboe principal is hardly the world’s finest, phrasally or tonally. But never mind, it’s Stern’s show and Wöss accompanies admirably.
Even better accompaniment is provided in the second disc by Martinon in the Beethoven. This was performed just over a month later. The introduction is well sculpted and dramatically presented; the basses come into their own here. Once again there’s plenty of rubato, but the plasticity of phrasing is both revealing and persuasive. Stern comes out of the cadenza slowly, benignly, but with a full complement of feeling, and he plays the slow movement with seraphic intelligence. Aspects of the finale are subverted by the rather crude percussion and the glassy recording, which magnifies it, but the solo playing is attractive.
These concert performances are clearly ancillary to Stern’s commercial discography. For the Mozart there’s Szell as well as the self-conducted Columbia Symphony. For Brahms there’s Beecham and Ormandy in preference to Mehta. Ormandy, Bernstein and Barenboim directed Beethoven for Stern over the years. It would be foolish to suggest that these NHK versions are in any way preferable, but they do reflect a hitherto patchily represented example of his world touring in the 1950s. That said, you must accept subpar orchestral performance and recording quality. The booklet notes are only in Japanese.
Jonathan Woolf  

Masterwork Index: Beethoven Violin concerto ~~ Brahms Violin concerto



























































































































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