Isaac Stern

The Early Concerto Recordings, Vol. 1

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Isaac Stern's loyal fans and students of his techniques may find this historical set compelling, but others may deem it less than satisfactory. Stern's playing is masterful and heartfelt, and his fairly romantic interpretations reflect their time, so appreciation of his performance style is really a matter of taste. However, the boxy, compressed sound of the set is detrimental to casual enjoyment, and even with Sony's minimal digital remastering, these mono Columbia recordings from 1947 to 1957 are likely to disappoint the unsuspecting. Beyond the bothersome sound problems, the Bach and Vivaldi concertos with Eugene Ormandy are the least invigorating, due largely to the Philadelphia Orchestra's heaviness. Stern's performances of the Haydn and Mozart concertos are lively and bright, though both are plagued by roughness in the upper octaves and thin bass. The second disc is worthwhile, if only to have Thomas Beecham's warm rendition of the Brahms Violin Concerto and the brooding Double Concerto with Bruno Walter. Musical values trump the uneven recording, and if one listens past the hiss, many rewards are in store. The Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn concertos suffer from orchestral flatness, though Stern's part is clear and vibrant in both. Ravel's Tzigane receives an astonishing performance and offers the most vivid sound quality in the set.

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