Isaac Stern

Keeping the Doors Open

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This reissue, a joint project of Sony Classical and Carnegie Hall in New York, offers a bit less than meets the eye but is worthwhile for fans of violinist Isaac Stern. It is billed as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the reopening of the hall in autumn 1960, after efforts spearheaded by Stern averted its demolition; a second goal is the observance of Stern's 90th birthday. A concert at that time (the exact date is not given) featured Stern on violin and Leonard Bernstein as conductor. None of the music on the disc is from that concert, and only the final track is from a later 1976 all-star event promoted as the Concert of the Century. The bulk of the album is given over to a 1967 performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, that does feature Stern and Bernstein but was recorded in Israel, not the U.S. The booklet (in English only) includes some vintage photos and an account of the whole seemingly unthinkable saga, and it's worth reflecting on how only the efforts of people like Stern and the writer Jane Jacobs stopped the plans of bureaucrats who wanted to bulldoze the old New York. The musical connections are tenuous, but the good news is that this is a nice and little-known live recording of the Mendelssohn concerto by Stern, who as of 1967 must have played the piece dozens if not hundreds of time. The beginning is held back just enough to draw the audience in, and the performance is committed and carefully shaped throughout. As a collectors' album it works, but one wonders whether the 1960 concert was recorded.

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