The Philippines and Stern

November 12, 2013, 2:27 PM · Greetings,
before a little about music I would like to propose a vague sociological experiment.
What would happen if everyone on this site wrote an open letter to Apple on their Facebook, Twitter and Tweet accounts that read:

Dear Apple,
please could you donate 50 million dollars to the Philippines Red Cross.
Yours Sincerely,

I wonder if everyone could be encouraged to do it to such an extent that Mac would have to respond?

Isaac SternIn the meantime, I find myself very much in an Isaac stern phase. When you ask people to name the great violinists of history Stern (also Perlman perhaps) never really makes it into the top five (arbitrary figure) and yet on the evidence of his recordings for many people that really is where he belongs. As a youngster I was hooked on Heifetz for years and although Oistrakh eventually opened up my ears to the rest of the world I think my teenage hormones may have caused me to miss the slightly less individualistic magic of Stern. From sheer apathy is remained in this state most of my life but some years back I clicked on stern playinga Mozart sonata on you tube which just blew me away.

I just sat and reran it over and over. What makes it so great?
We'll recently I showed it to a knowledgeable amateur musiCain and she expressed surprise, saying that she didn't associate Mozart with that kind of sound or intensity. That is probably true, but to my ears Mozart played with Sterns modern deep, expressive sound and truly honest Mozart phrasing, breathe and élan is just mind blowing. My friend loved it too. Go take a listen....
Then I switched to an agreeing Stern playing the Franck.

Frankly (!) I don't like many versions of this piece. It's hard to pull off without being hyper romantic yet many players sound over the top as a result. Underplay it and it's just a boring piano sonata. Stern is incredible. All the rubato works, the passion he expresses and so on is out of this world.
Another one for much study. Then I tried his Sibelius recording at age 31.

Is his meaty sound good for expressing icy arctic tundra?
I had my doubts at first but eventually the majesty of his interpretation convinced me he knew how to play this piece. After that I returned to some legendary performances such as Neveu and found them well ,just a little dull in comparison.
It all reminds me we should just keep exploring new players and new sounds.
Also trying to remember how lucky we are to be able to do this. We have so many luxuries when so many have nothing,


November 13, 2013 at 05:08 AM · Reagards Apple : I doubt that it would have much effect Buri. The senior people at Apple never even visited their major factories even though they knew people were being overworked and committing suicide. They only care about money...not people.

This is why I NEVER buy any Apple products. Over priced rubbish anyway !

November 13, 2013 at 09:35 AM · omg, Buri! I only started to listen, but, please, not THAT Mozart :( Perhaps I am too deep in Hirshhorn phase, but it is impossible to listen to... just because of sounding. You called it modern and deep - well, I feel it as not supporting its own heavyness, spreading like a puddle, having no hidden spring. It is just phisically unpleasant. The spiccati are so awkward and... I don't know... shorthanded, like if a penguin would play this... I could continue, but better to stop. When you (abstr.) are in a phase, you are ready to flame everybody who is crosswise - at least I usually am :)

November 13, 2013 at 02:12 PM · I was pleasantly surprised by the Stern interpretation of Sibelius. In almost all of the fast runs he takes extreme liberties with the rhythm (they are played more as Sarasate-like embellishments), but he somehow gets away with it.

November 13, 2013 at 02:50 PM · Well, Sibelius is outstanding. Young, he sounded better.

As for luxuries we have, I totally agree. Life is so wonderful, when you know, where to look :)

November 13, 2013 at 04:19 PM · Buri:

What a wonderful gesture to one of the truly great violinists (of any era). Yes, it is a peculiarity that whenever great violinists are listed, Isaac Stern seems to be taken for granted (as in, "and then, of course, there's Isaac Stern").

In so many of his recordings, he plays with unsurpassable artistry, technique, passion, and musicianship. His ability to communicate (as a violinist and as a person) to us ordinary people was remarkable. Yes, his Sibelius Concerto, Mozart concertos, Tchaikovsky, chamber music, and so many other recordings document his mesmerizing artistry. His recordings of many of the great encore pieces are clearly some of the best recorded performances ever.

I have treasured memories of hearing Isaac Stern in person at several points in his career. I still remember very clearly, at about age 5 (in the mid 1940's), sitting on my father's knee (so that I could see the stage) at the last row at the ground level of Orchestra Hall in Chicago when he played the Tchaikovsky Concerto with the CSO. I have a clear auditory and visual memory of various passages of it (not the whole thing, of course).

And when in college in the mid 1960's, I was at a rehearsal in Columbus, Ohio, in which he was preparing the Hindemith Violin Concerto (a stunning performance).

Certainly every person isn't perfect and has their own "feet of clay." But as a violin virtuoso, interpreter of great music, teacher, advocate for humanitarian causes, and all-round communicator (I even recall an old Jack Benny TV program in which Stern was playing the fiddle in Benny's closet for a very funny skit), Stern was was an unsurpassable cultural treasure.

And aren't we lucky to have all those recordings.



November 13, 2013 at 04:46 PM · Stern is not in my top 5 but only because I haven't listened to enough of his recordings. Perlman is definitely in my top 5, maybe top 1... Thanks for sharing these gems!

November 13, 2013 at 08:31 PM · Greetings,

actually this isnt the Mozart sonata that I had in mind. There is another superb sonata floating out there. However, I am glad this one came up. I have lived with and performed this sonata for so many years it is like a worn pair of slippers for me. It is one of Mozart`s most pain filled works since it was written directly after his mother`s death.

What makes this performance so profound I think are a few factors. First, he plays within a specific range of sound that is slightly more limited than what would be used in a major concerto. that is one of the great rules of Mozart interpretation in my book. You have to find more within less. Second he doesn`t do anything that is from the ego, `saying this is me.` Every subtle nuance he makes stems directly from the score itself. And finally, he has a unique gift that only a select few players truly share and understand: he lives between the notes. The more you listen to this playing the more I think one finds that each note is great , big deal, but the actual timing and space of the universe within the notes is virtually flawless. He is saying through Mozart that we should look beneath the surface of things like er, death of a loved one and we will find the real universe where all is light and hope. That sadness and loss is ephemeral because there is a much bigger picture out there.



November 13, 2013 at 08:47 PM · Dear Buri,

thank you for not having flamed me :)

I like how you write about it. Perhaps, one day I will make another attempt to appreciate his Mozart.

November 13, 2013 at 09:00 PM · Greetings,

no reason to flame you. I like it. you don't. That's just opinion, taste and so on. I have noticed one thing when I listen. For example, for some strange reason I might spend some time listening to for example Manze and podger playing the Bach double on authentic instruments. T

hen I would go back to Oistrakh and for some reason , because my mind has been tuned to another frequency, he sounds ponderous. So k listen a few more times and my brain resets itself and it is the same old wonderful Oistrakh. Sometimes it can be strange jumping Fromm violinists as disparate as say Hirschhorn and Stern.



November 14, 2013 at 01:15 PM · A couple of comments.

The Mozart does not engage me. I feel I want to be engaged but I am not. Perhaps its because his playing lacks the light spontaneity - or rather humour that I love and look for in Mozart. OTOH I did not know that he wrote this after during such a traumatic personal phase (Thanks Buri) so maybe I need to relisten to this version and learn more about the composer through Stern's presentation.

The Frank OTOH is totally amazing. As you say, he nails the emotion/sobriety ratio that I am intoxicated. When I come to work on this (as some day I must) this will likely be my template.

That's as far as I've got so far but I have one more observation. What I hear is a similarity to Grumiaux. The same delicious and infinite control without any sense of the player being restricted or self conscious. In my mind these are two peas in a pod (though I bet I'm about to be enlightened on that thought!). With them both you can hear the bow slow to the point where the individual plucks of the hairs are audible and it creates such an anticipation that its almost unbearable. This is particularly the case in the sonata - surely Grumiaux's forte - and I think (hope) my own kismet.

November 14, 2013 at 01:23 PM · One more question: what do you mean by his 'meaty sound'? what I hear is a violinist who uses a bit more bow pressure than the average, which I guess gives him a bit more precise control over note durations at the price, perhaps of violin resonance. Is that it?

November 14, 2013 at 01:51 PM · OK, final one from me. The Sibelius. I think his style is wonderful for the first and last movements, amazing precision has you on the edge of the seat.

But. The slow movement did not engage me at all - its mechanical and cold. OK so its the arctic but this is surely supposed to be a warm romantic summer night with the midnight sun...

Its not a shade on Neveu.

Come now, you can't call that boring!! Its as good as it gets.

November 16, 2013 at 05:21 AM · As nice as it is I like Aaron Rosand's recording so much better.

November 16, 2013 at 05:34 PM · Some days vanilla will do the trick....other days, chocolate is the answer.....rarely does maple walnut enter the scene but I suppose if Stern is the maple walnut and on sale that day...take it and run.....I have a tough time assimilating Stern knowing what a crude person he was...and his last program here in Bflo was ALL MOZART SONATAS.....not an exciting evening for my students who the week before heard Vengerov play a two hour program, and 14 encores from memory ala audience request....perhaps a weak moment, quaint reflection beyond the Mozart will cause a tolerant acceptance of his overly romantic performance.....but I too love his Sibelius....but he doesn't make my Top 5 by a long shot.

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