In retrospect, New York without Carnegie Hall seems unthinkable, but the hall was scheduled for demolition in 1960 when Isaac Stern formed a citizens committee to save the hall, refurbish it, and make sure that it would be preserved. Fifty years later, coinciding with Sterns 90th anniversary, Sony has released this album. It features a live Mendelssohn concerto with Bernstein and the Israel Phil. from 1967. I'm not sure if the performance has never had any previous release -- Sony's press release uses the ambiguous phrasing "rarely heard" and "digital debut." anyone who loves the violinist and/pr Bernstein, who were loving friends, will be moved.
The recorded sound is fairly good FM-radio stereo, with the violinist placed up close. On sonic grounds the listener will have to make compromises, but the performance itself is full of life and passion. In fact, I was shocked at how committed Stern sounds in a work that he had played umpteen times; today's virtuosos pale by comparison. I detect a few lapses in intonation on passing notes, but only a stickler would care. After a gripping first movement, soloist and conductor show a dignified restraint in the slow movement (which will surprise those who buy into the Over-the-top cliche about them). the sound is gritchy in the interlude before the finale, which is a model of musical partnership between the orchestra and Stern. there are flashier readings on disc, but few that seem to mean as much. In every note one senses a bygone era when classical music was woven into a general culture that people of all classes and backgrounds felt a part of.
the filler to this brief (45 min.) CD is the first movement of the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor, where Stern was joined by Rostropovich and Horowitz in 1976. The event was the ballyhooed "Concert of the Century" to celebrate Carnegie Hall's 85th anniversary. The music is quintessentially Russian in its mixture of borscht and tears, and the soloists give their all -- perhaps Horowitz more than his all, since he is miked thunderously close. I'm sure nobody in the audience had the slightest criticism; this is music-making on a larger-than-life (but also slapdash) scale. To further commemorate Stern's efforts to save Carnegie Hall, the long booklet details the story of that famous campaign at urban preservation. I remember the poignant articles in the New York Times that covered the steady destruction of irreplaceable architectural monuments throughout the city as a short-sighted frenzy for development of apartment buildings took precedence over history. At least Stern and the cultural notables who joined him managed to defeat crass moneyed interests when it mattered most to the life of music.