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Violinist Stern Inspires Despite Some Flaws

TIMES MUSIC WRITER

Isaac Stern has been playing recitals in Los Angeles since 1949, when he first appeared in the old Philharmonic Auditorium. No wonder the legendary and justly celebrated American violinist may now have trouble, at the age of 77, in competing with memories of his own performances.

That was the only trouble at Stern’s latest local recital, in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday night, when he gave expected pleasure and inspiration to an appreciative audience.

With pianist Robert McDonald, the violinist returned to play an engrossing program consisting of sonatas by Bach, Enesco and Brahms, concluding with three delicious morceaux of Fritz Kreisler. Stern’s command remains, but in a narrower dynamic range and with a reduced output of tone. There is occasional scratchiness and inconsistent vibrato, not enough to ruin the performance but enough to lessen some of its joys.

Nevertheless, Enesco’s rarely encountered Third Sonata served as a welcome reminder of the composer’s neglected contributions to the repertory. Stern played the colorful, emotionally rich work with passion, while McDonald let the rhapsodic qualities flow and made the piano a very convincing imitation of a cimbalom.

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The works of Brahms have long been signature pieces for Stern--he made his formal debut in San Francisco with the Violin Concerto in 1936--and his devotion to the sonatas is well known.

On Thursday he reinstated all the delicacy, intimacy and subtle emotional inflections in a favorite among the three, the G-major of Opus 78. With wonderfully controlled lightness and an unflagging sense of musical architecture, this inspired collaboration between fiddler and pianist became a definitive and beautiful rediscovery of the familiar work.

Stern added a single encore to his felicitous Kreisler group, the nostalgic “Schon Rosmarin.”


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