v. ITHOUT ANY ANNIVERSARY or public occasion as tie-in, Columbia has released five concerto records by Isaac Stern, each with a different orchestra and conductor, which in their variety of material and uniformity of excellence add up to one of those famous wholes greater than the sums of their parts. These five discs together might almost be regarded as a declaration of artistic principle from a man who is not only a creat violinist, but a musician concerned with both the herigate of the past and the continuity of the art that sustains him and is in turn sustained by him. There is brilliance to burn, and what it illumines most brightly is intergity.
In the biographical, or sentimental, context, it is curious that neither Eugene Ormandy nor leonard Bernstein is represented in this collection, they being the conductors to whom Stern has felt closest, In a sense, however, it is symbolic of his continuing growth and exlporing spirit that he essays new material and adds new collaborators to his formidable discography. For the premiere recording of the Violin Concerto written for him by George Rochberg, Stern is joined by Andre Previn and the Pittsburg Symphony, the orchestra with which he gave the work's world premiere in 1975 (M 35149). In the Penderecki Concerto, also written for him, his companions are Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Minnesota Orchestra, with whom he introduced the work to America early last year (M 35150).
It may be significant that both Rochberg and Penderecki were identified with the avant-garde until the period in which they wrote whtie concetos for Stern. Both composers now embrace a more directly expressive style, inaugurated by Rochberg a few years earlier in his Third Quartet, in Penderecki's case begun with this very Concerto. It would not be off the mark to describe the two concertos an neo-romantic; both happen to be generally elegiac in character, expansive in manner and unusual in outline-the Rochberg laid out more or less symmetrically in five movements, the Penderecki in a single movement 38 minutes long.
The Rochberg Concerto was the first work in a series of Bicentennial commissions to be played round robin by seven American orchestras; Stern developed a proprietary zeal which impelled him to perform it with many orchestras beyond that specified group, and his fervor is evident in the recording, as it is in that of the so far much less widely circulated Penderecki Concerto, which proves to be a most accessible and even rather endearing work. Both Previn and Skrowaczewski, in their first recordings with Stern, are ideal partners, and the sound is excellent on both discs.
Another first recorded collaboration for Stern is that with Zubin Mehta, who conducts the New York Philharmonic in the Brahms Concerto M 35146). I happened to attend one of the concert performances last fall, and it seemed to me the finest performance of the Brahms I had heard from Stern, either live or on records. The recording serves to confirm that impression, conveying an impression of total absorption in a work for which the artist's love has deepened through decades of intimacy-in terms of intensity as well as mellowness.
Of greater interest locally, perhaps is the new recording of the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony (M 35126). This is the Washington orchestra's first appearance on Columbia, taped after the concert performances of November 1977.The performance is absoluterly uncut, and again highly personal in outlook, but with an uncommon degree of mutuality and give-and-take between soloist and conductor. There is an agreeable little bonus in the form of the Meditation which Tchaikovsky originally conceived as the Concerto's slow movement: he replaced it before he had begun to score it, and it was orchestrated much later by Clazunov.
The fith disc contains a pair of Mozart concertos-the seldom-heard No. 2 in D major, K. 211, and the same key, K. 218-with the English Chamber Orchestra under Alexander Schneider (M 35111). Schneider made a memorable recording of K. 218 as both soloist and conductor, for the Haydn Society, some 30 years ago, and at about the same time made the first of his several recordings with Stern as a fellow instrumentalist (in chamber music and Bach concertos with Pablo Casals at Prades); this appears to be the first disc on which he conducts for Stern, and it is a gem. The approach is hearty and romantic; the playing is impeccable, and the sound is quite adequate, if less bright than that of the four other discs.
In his 32 years or so as a recording artist, Stern has been an exclusive Columbia "property," the single exception till now being his appearance on the sound track of the movie version of Fiddler on the Roof , issued as United Artists UAS-10900. Now he has made his first recording for RCA (actually for Erato, RCA's French affiliate), not as violinist, but as conductor of the Jerusalem Music Center Chamber Orchestra in Jean-Pierre Rampal's latest remake of the two Mozart flute concertos and the Andale in C major, K. 315.
Stern has recorded as conductor before, both for himself and in other Jerusalem collaborations with Rampal on Columbia, but the new RCA disc (ARLI-3084) is the first on which he appears only in that capacity, without playing the violin at all.He secures bright, crisp playing from the orchestra, and Rampal is in his usual form-which is to say, he plays like an angel. Tempi are noticeably brisker than in Rampal's earlier recording of this material with Theodor Gushchlbauer and the Vienna Symphony (current on both RCA FRL1-5330 and Musical Heritage Society MHS 863); the added speed lends a degree of enlivenment without any suggestion of indecorum of breathlessness. In short, the new disc is every bit as appealing as the combination of names would suggest, even if its aforementioned predecessor and James Galway's similar program on RCA ARL1-215 retain their own appeal undiminished.