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Isaac Stern (violin)
Live - Volume 4
Giovanni Battista VIOTTI (1755-1824)
Violin Concerto No.22 in A minor (c.1790s) [29:17]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Rhapsody, Op. 1 (Sz. 26) (1904) [10:50]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Violin Concerto (1880 rev. 1882) [32:55]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (1878) [36:53]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 (1878) [32:23]
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux (Viotti, Bartók, Brahms), Erich Leinsdorf (Dvořák)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
Rec. live, Tanglewood, 1959-65; 1958 (Tchaikovsky)
DOREMI DHR-8133-34 [73:08 + 69:21]

We have reached volume 4 in this series with great rapidity (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2 ~ Volume 3). Given the nature of Isaac Stern’s concerto engagements in the years 1958-65 it’s no great surprise to find him performing the tried and trusted works yet again and that there should be duplication in Doremi’s salute. Here, therefore, once again, are the Dvořák, Brahms and Tchaikovsky .

All the performances bar the Tchaikovsky come from Tanglewood and for me the most significant element in this volume is the presence of Pierre Monteux. He directs three works. The first is the Viotti Concerto No.22, about the only one that top-line soloists ever played at the time (or now), though a few daring souls essayed No.23. Stern made a lovely recording of this with Ormandy and the Philadelphia and this live version is no less persuasive in its robust rhythm, lyric sweetness and lithely bowed finale. He employs the Ysa˙e cadenza. Take some time off the total timing in the header as this is pre-announced. Bartók’s Rhapsody No.1 comes from the same concert and will remind admirers of the recording Stern made in New York with Leonard Bernstein. He has the right tone colours and sense of the folkloric for this work and Monteux, then 86 but ever ageless, is a sympathetic accompanist.

The third collaboration is the most revealing. In July 1959 Stern joined Monteux for the Brahms Concerto. Monteux is famously on record as admiring Brahms above all composers and he had, as a young man, performed before him in a string quartet earning the composer’s admiring comment that it took a French quartet to understand him; German ones were always too heavy. Stern plays this as I have never heard him before and this is by some distance his fastest and most expressively engaged reading of the work, a fact I put down very largely to Monteux’s influence. Time and again Monteux’s intensity and sense of linearity drive his soloist onwards – but never inflexibly and always with the truest of musical aims. Orchestral string choirs are audible, lower wind harmonies register, and Stern responds with the kind of vivid lyric intensity and controlled muscularity that I have always found missing in his other recordings, both studio and live. So, for me, it’s farewell to Ormandy, Abbado, Mehta and Beecham, and the live Doremi Svetlanov, and all the others; from now on, only Monteux and the Bostonians will do.

The Dvořák with Leinsdorf is, by contrast, a disappointment. Stern’s intonation takes a brief while to find itself and whilst he plays the slow movement with the kind of purity reminiscent of his famous LP with Ormandy, Leinsdorf proves a metrical and rather staid exponent. The orchestral basses are galumphing in a finale that is never as folkloric as it should be. Stern and Mitropoulos on a previous volume in this series are much preferable if still not ideal. I also wasn’t desperately keen on the Tchaikovsky with Maazel and the Lucerne Festival in August 1958. It’s somewhat faster than the Koussevitzky-directed Hollywood Bowl performance in the series and some of Stern’s dynamics are too calculated to pass repeated listening, as is Maazel’s flashy cueing of the spitting trumpets. I didn’t much like the inelegant cuts in the finale either.

Doremi reprints the same booklet note and there are no details, other than dates and locations, about the performances. I’d say this twofer is split down the middle; Viotti, Bartók and Brahms very fine (especially the Brahms) and Dvořák and Tchaikovsky inessential.

Jonathan Woolf



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